LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
On a day primaries are being held in several states, we bring you the story of one new political party that is not to be - at least for now. A state election board in Michigan has refused to certify the Tea Party for the November election ballot.
And here's the interesting part: The primary force behind the effort to block access to the ballot for this Tea Party party were members of the Tea Party movement in Michigan. They claim the petitions aiming to get a Tea Party on the ballot were all part of a plan hatched by Democrats. The battle is expected to be settled by the State Supreme Court. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Lansing, Michigan.
DON GONYEA: The petitions contained nearly 60,000 signatures, far more than the required 38,000. Except nobody affiliated with the Tea Party leadership in the state had even heard of the plan to field a slate of candidates under the Tea Party name in November. At a hearing yesterday in Lansing, Ken Mitts of Kalamazoo said a new political party is not something Tea Partiers want.
Mr. KEN MITTS: What it does, it splits the Republican Party, for one thing, and it gives Democrats more control over everything that's going on. What we want to do is support candidates who follow the Constitution.
GONYEA: In recent weeks, questions arose about who was behind the petitions to get the Tea Party on the ballot. Democrats were accused of political mischief making designed to siphon votes from Republicans in legislative and congressional races.
Then, over the weekend, an official with the Oakland County Democratic party in suburban Detroit resigned after it was learned that he had recruited candidates to run under the Tea Party banner. But the Michigan Democratic Party and the Oakland County branch say they are not behind the petition to create a new party.
Against this backdrop, the Board of State Canvassers convened yesterday to decide the validity of the petitions. Attorney John Pirich represents what he called the real Tea Party movement.
Mr. JOHN PIRICH (Attorney): Some of the candidates aren't even residents of Michigan. And the fact that some of the candidates aren't even the age of majority shows that this is just an artifice and a hoax, and it's meant to bring more disdain to the whole political process.
GONYEA: Tea Party activists from across the state testified at the hearing, arguing that their movement had been hijacked - among them, Dianne Ruhlandt.
Ms. DIANNE RUHLANDT: None of you would help your child cheat on an exam. Doing the right things in the political world should not be any different than doing the right thing in our homes and at work.
GONYEA: On the other side, attorney Michael Hodge represents the group trying to get onto the ballot. He was the only person at the hearing to speak in support of the petition.
Mr. MICHAEL HODGE (Attorney): No one has complained about the sufficiency of the signatures, and no one filed a challenge to the signatures.
GONYEA: But the canvassers' board also looked at potential technical violations regarding the petition, including the fact that the name of the party wasn't set in the required 24-point type.
There are the four members on the board: two Democrats and two Republicans. They split two to two along party lines - the Republicans opposing the petition. A majority is needed, so the so-called Tea Party was denied a spot on the Michigan ballot. The state Supreme Court is likely to get the case within weeks.
Ballot access controversies are hardly new. Attempts to field spoiler, minor-party candidates have a long history. But this year, there may be added incentive, because of voter discontent with both major parties. Richard Winger publishes a newsletter called Ballot-Access News. He says independent voters are worth watching closely this year.
Mr. RICHARD WINGER (Ballot-Access News): Because when times are bad, people are more interested in getting outside their normal habits. And everybody remembers a lot of complaints with the Republicans, because it wasn't that long ago when the Republicans had all the branches of the federal government. And people are unhappy today with the Democrats controlling all the elected branches of the federal government.
GONYEA: And, Winger says, Michigan's Tea Party controversy aside, it could be the best year for independent candidates and third parties in many decades.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Lansing.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.