The Duke dilemma

December 05, 1991

It is an affront to the people of Maryland that David Duke -- an ex-Nazi and former Ku Klux Klan leader -- would believe he could muster significant support here for his presidential campaign. But it is even more of an affront to the state's newly empowered Republican Party that a man who has spent virtually all of his life on the racist fringes, decrying the decay of American culture through race mixing and what he calls "the Jewish question," would have the audacity to call himself one of their own -- and, worse, to expect any sort of support.

So why should Duke's name appear on the March 3 ballot as a Republican candidate in the presidential primary? Simply because Maryland law requires that the secretary of state place on the ballot the names of people the news media have targeted as potential candidates, unless they expressly disclaim candidacy.

While this practice is intended to give voters as wide an array of choices as possible, there are many things wrong with it, chief among them that a candidate who has been disavowed by both the national and state parties can run as a party member here, as Duke will do. Equally compelling is the question of whether it is fair to let a government official, who is also a politician -- and in this case a Democrat -- pick the candidates for the other party.

There are better ways to determine who gets on the ballot. At the least, candidates ought to register rather than be drafted. Requiring approval by their state party is another option. Or requiring that potential candidates get signatures on a petition before their names can be listed. Whatever is done, the Duke dilemma is proof that Maryland's system needs to be changed.

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