Jon Ross Barrie looks the part of a patriot. In images on his campaign website, Barrie sports an American flag tie and, for good measure, an American flag lapel pin. From the website, a simple WordPress template, Barrie broadcasts his campaign platform for the US Senate. In a YouTube video, the bespectacled Vietnam veteran says he's a "citizen activist" who is "kind of like the founding fathers."
"If I'm elected, half of my salary will stay here in New Mexico and go to children with disabilities," he announces. "I'm not here to enhance myself. I'm here to represent you. That's what the founding fathers had in mind. The Constitution is important to me. I think we need to restore it."
It's Barrie's first campaign spot—and possibly his last. An Albuquerque-based practitioner of homeopathic medicine, Barrie has struggled to get his name on the ballot as the US Senate nominee for the Independent American Party, a small-government group whose advocacy for religious-based political institutions places it at the far right end of the political spectrum.
As such, Barrie represents competition—if not especially significant competition—for Republican Senate candidate Heather Wilson, whose moderate views exposed her to attacks from Tea Party favorite Greg Sowards in the primary. But while Barrie believes he's being held off the ballot to protect Wilson, he also faces a much more profound (and time-consuming) battle: the classic struggle of the minor-party candidate.
Barrie's fight for ballot access is a familiar one in New Mexico. If he wins, he'll be the first minor-party candidate in 16 years to vie for the US Senate. If he loses, he'll join many who have fallen to some of the strictest ballot access laws in the nation.
Between 1980 and 2004, New Mexico had the second-fewest candidates on gubernatorial and US Senate ballots in the nation, with an average of just 2.4 candidates, according to a report by Richard Winger, the editor of San Francisco-based newsletter Ballot Access News.
"It's one state that's really gone downhill, from my point of view," Winger says. New Mexico "used to be one of the best states" for minor-party candidates, he notes, until state officials implemented stricter ballot access laws decades ago.
Barrie has had to appear in court twice in one week—a drain on valuable political dollars and time—because Secretary of State Dianna Duran's office contends he does not have enough valid signatures for his nominating petition.
At issue are 4,566 signatures the Secretary of State's office rejected in Barrie's petition for his name to appear on the ballot. State law requires Barrie to get 6,028 valid signatures. On June 20, he submitted 10,279. But on Aug. 1, Duran's office sent Barrie a letter showing it had rejected 44 percent of those signatures. As of press time, he was 277 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot.
Last week, the state Supreme Court ordered Duran's office and Barrie's campaign to work out their differences. Barrie's campaign claims that 574 of the signatures were rejected in error. They include minor typographical entries of names like Rob Settercerni, whose real surname is Settecerri.
Duran's office and the Barrie campaign disagreed on whether registered voters whose addresses did not match the addresses in the state's database should be counted, so the two parties found themselves in Santa Fe district court on Tuesday.
Scott Fuqua, the attorney for the state, argued that the state did not want to add bias in the signature validation process by counting signatures whose addresses did not match—a more subjective process than just going by the numbers.
But 1st Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton sided with Barrie, saying that the Secretary of State has to make more than a "mechanical determination" of whether the addresses are valid. Instead, to invalidate signatures, the state must look for signs of fraud, Singleton said.
After the hearing, the Secretary of State's office said it would review signatures with mismatching addresses. The battle could end up in court again if the state doesn't confirm 277 signatures.
Barrie says the tough laws are only part of the problem. He also blames Duran, a Republican.
"I can't help but feel…the Secretary of State definitely does not want me on the ballot," he says. "There is no doubt that I will take votes away from Heather Wilson."
But Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc., says that, while Barrie could pull some hard-right voters away from Wilson, his candidacy probably wouldn't make a huge difference in the race unless there were a razor-thin margin. (A recent Rasmussen poll put Martin Heinrich, Wilson's Democratic opponent, approximately seven percentage points ahead of her.)
"If this US Senate race were to be extremely close, one or two percentage points could make the difference," he says. "Therefore, it's in the Republicans' best interest to keep him off the ballot."