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Three strikes and you're out?

Quick quiz: you're a candidate running for office, but you have a few negatives. If you could pick one, which of the following would pose the biggest obstacle to your chances for election?

  1. You're the candidate of the Green Party.
  2. You're a convicted sex offender.
  3. You're legally ineligible to be on the ballot.
How about someone who hits the trifecta? His biggest problem is the last of those three, of course:
State and Mercer County election officials scrambled yesterday to respond to a potentially major ballot blunder involving the 12th District congressional race.

Green Party candidate Daryl M. Brooks, who is listed on thousands of absentee ballots that already have been mailed, and whose name appears on templates being installed on thousands of voting machines, apparently is ineligible to run for any elective office.

Brooks, 36, of Trenton said he learned on Monday's voter-registration deadline that he is ineligible to vote and that his name has been deleted from the registration rolls.

A person must be a registered voter and meet other voter registration requirements to lawfully seek elective office in New Jersey, according to Lee Moore, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office.

Anyone who is incarcerated, on parole or probation is deleted from registration rolls and is ineligible to run for office in New Jersey, he said.

Brooks said he was aware his voting privileges had been suspended because of his 1998 conviction for a sex crime.

He was put on the ballot because the state Attorney General's office certified that he was eligible; they made this mistake because, apparently the system relies entirely on self reporting:
Moore said it is up to the candidates to provide factual and truthful information when they submit their petitions and accompanying documents.
They do realize that they're dealing with politicians, right? (Strangely, Brooks seems to have accidentally forgotten to mention his criminal record on his website biography.)

It's a cute story, and the whole thing's sort of trivial because, after all, he's only the Green Party candidate. But there's one minor problem with the story: Brooks is not ineligible. Apparently nobody has bothered to actually read the law.

The state can impose all sorts of requirements to run for state office, but Brooks is running for Congress. And eligibility requirements for Congress are not set by the states; they're set by the United States Constitution, which states that a Representative must be 25 years old, a citizen for 7 years, and an inhabitant of the state that elects him. Can't the state add this requirement? No. In 1995, in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, the Supreme Court ruled that term limits imposed by the states were unconstitutional. But the reasoning was broader:

In short, as the Framers recognized, electing representatives to the National Legislature was a new right, arising from the Constitution itself. The Tenth Amendment thus provides no basis for concluding that the States possess reserved power to add qualifications to those that are fixed in the Constitution. Instead, any state power to set the qualifications for membership in Congress must derive not from the reserved powers of state sovereignty, but rather from the delegated powers of national sovereignty. In the absence of any constitutional delegation to the States of power to add qualifications to those enumerated in the Constitution, such a power does not exist.
It's bad enough that the reporter didn't know this, but how can people from the state attorney general's office not? Nevertheless, this is a mistake I see made all the time; for instance, in discussion of Alan Keyes running for Senate in Illinois (or Hillary Clinton running for Senate from New York), people repeatedly discussed whether those states' eligibility rules would permit it. All states have the same eligibility rules, folks: the Constitution. I wish reporters would try reading it.


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