For Immediate Release: 3-29-2019
The Libertarian Party of Arkansas filed a complaint in federal court yesterday seeking to overturn the provisions of a new law that makes it more difficult for third-parties to get on the ballot in Arkansas. Act 164, which was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor last month, increased the number of petition signatures required for the formation of “New Political Parties” from 10,000 to 26,746 (3% of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election).
The Libertarians’ lawsuit calls the new requirement “an unconstitutional, unnecessary, and excessive petition signature requirement” that “serve[s] no compelling state interest.” It calls upon the court to declare the requirement as an unconstitutional infringement on the plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights “to actively engage in the exercise of their free speech, right to political association, right to petition, right to form a political party, seek redress of grievances, cast an effective vote and equal protection and due process of the laws of the United States of America.”
The chair of the Libertarian Party, Michael Pakko, expressed confidence about the party’s prospects in court. “We told our legislators that they were re-establishing a standard that had been overturned in federal court back in 2006, but they passed it anyway. We have clear precedent on our side.” Pakko was referring to the case of Green Party of Arkansas v. Daniels, where the court overturned a 3% requirement that was subsequently replaced by the 10,000-signature standard.
When asked for comment, Richard Winger, a noted expert on ballot-access laws across the nation, pointed out that there have been not just one, but two cases where Arkansas’ petition requirements have been invalidated by federal courts. In 1996, Citizens to Establish a Reform Party In Arkansas v. Priest also struck down a requirement for signatures totalling 3% of the vote. “It is truly outrageous that TWICE a federal court has struck down the 3%, and yet the state has done it a third time. That makes this case unique in the whole country’s history of ballot access litigation.”
Libertarians are also challenging aspects of the more recently enacted law that shifts primary elections from May to March in presidential election years. In the process of moving primary election deadlines forward, Act 545, signed by the governor earlier this week, also affects third-parties and independent candidates. “As if to add insult to injury, they made it even more difficult by moving the deadlines,” said Pakko. “Prospective challengers to the established incumbents shouldn’t have to form parties and select candidates over a year before the general election.”
The complaint filed yesterday, Libertarian Party of Arkansas et al. v. Thurston, asks the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to declare several provisions of recently-enacted laws as unconstitutional and to issue an injunction to permit the Libertarian Party of Arkansas to submit 10,000 valid signatures to demonstrate sufficient support for the formation of a new political party. The action would enjoin the Arkansas Secretary of State, John Thurston, from enforcing the contested provisions of the new laws.
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