The following article is from the March 27, 2003 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Peace and Freedom returns to ballot
Membership grows enough to qualify

John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writer

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Growing concern about war in the Mideast, combined with the lackluster turnout by California voters last November, have put the tiny Peace and Freedom Party back on the state ballot.

The anti-war party, which lost its ballot certification in 1998 because of declining membership, will be eligible to have its candidates listed on the state ballot next March, according to the secretary of state's office.

"The latest voter registration numbers show the Peace and Freedom Party with 79,462 members, more than the 77,389 needed to qualify for the ballot," said Shad Balch, a spokesman for the secretary of state.

The decision marked the end of an effort to rebuild membership in the party, which was founded in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War.

"We've been actively involved in a registration drive," said Kevin Akin of Riverside, a former party chairman. "We succeeded at the last moment as a result of the bipartisan rush to war."

Voter apathy over the choices in the last election also gave the moribund party a boost. Because only slightly more than half the state's registered voters showed up for the November election, the party needed just 1 percent of the 7.73 million voters to regain the ballot. In 1998, the last year the Peace and Freedom Party made the ballot, the party needed more than 86,000 members to remain a qualified party on the state list.

"It was a tremendous feat to get back on the ballot," said Marsha Feinland of Berkeley, the party's chairwoman. "Since our registration was changing all the time, we had to register about 40,000 new people in the past four years, just to reach our goal."

Minor parties come and go in California elections. The Prohibition Party, for example, was on the ballot from 1910 to 1962, while the Communist Party was represented from 1934 to 1944. The Socialist Party fielded statewide candidates for 28 years, while groups like the Liberty Party, the Commonwealth Party and the Townsend Party were four years and out.

The Reform Party, for example, went on the California ballot in 1996, when Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot was its presidential candidate. It was dumped from the ballot after the 2000 presidential election, when a vicious intraparty battle left controversial conservative Pat Buchanan as its nominee.

"When Buchanan came into the party, people dropped off like flies," said Donna Campbell of Concord, the Reform Party's California chairwoman. "We spent over $25,000 to get the state party back in the right hands, and it wasn't easy."

The party now is trying to attract the 14,000 additional registered voters it needs to get back on the state ballot, Campbell said.

"Our state convention is in early May, and we're starting a registration drive right out of it," she said.

The new registration totals also show that the Natural Law Party, with 42,656 members, has fallen below the ballot threshold. But since its candidates for secretary of state, controller and insurance commissioner each received more than 2 percent of the statewide vote in November, the party remains qualified, Balch said.

Democrats now account for 44 percent of the state's registered voters, while Republicans have 35 percent. More than 15 percent of California voters decline to state a party affiliation.

The American Independent Party, formed in 1967 by segregationist Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, is the largest of the state's minor parties, with 295,060 members, or 1.95 percent of the voters. The Green Party, which first went on the ballot in 1992, has 156,803 members, or 1.03 percent of the voters.

The Libertarian Party, on the ballot since 1980, has 89,356 members, or 0.59 percent.

Civil rights and an anti-war stance fueled the Peace and Freedom Party in the '60s, and it embraced a socialist platform in the 1970s, Feinlend said. But the recent move toward war with Iraq helped fuel its latest surge in support.

"We'd get back the voter registration cards, and some would have peace signs all over or with 'Peace' written in huge letters," Feinland said.

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