Statement of the Libertarian Party of Arkansas on SB 163
Adopted by resolution of the LPAR Executive Committee, February 2, 2019
The Libertarian Party of Arkansas is resolutely opposed to SB 163, a bill currently being considered in the Arkansas legislature. It would raise the petition signature requirement for “new political parties” from 10,000 registered voters to 3% of voters in the most recent gubernatorial race. Presently, this would represent approximately 26, 750 signatures—an increase of nearly 270%.
SB 163 would obviously make it more difficult for so-called “third parties,” like the Libertarian Party, to qualify to put its candidates on the ballot. As such, it represents a clear effort to suppress competition in Arkansas’ political process. Moreover, it appears to be targeted directly against the Libertarian Party.
The Libertarian Party is the only party to have successfully qualified for ballot access by petition since 2014. Indeed, this is in itself evidence that the existing petition requirement is not set too low. There are other organized political parties in Arkansas, but none other than the Green Party has ever managed to marshal the resources to get on the ballot, and the Greens have not done in for the last two electoral cycles.
As far as we know, the Libertarian Party is the only party in Arkansas that is poised to embark on a petition campaign for ballot access in the 2020 elections. The fact that SB 163 includes an emergency clause so it would take effect immediately makes it all the more evident that this bill is intended to stifle potential competition, specifically Libertarians, in the 2020 election. That’s the emergency?
We were gratified to see the editorial page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recognize the true intent of SB 163, and to take a position against it. In its editorial, “Ain’t Broke-Don’t Fix,” the Dem-Gaz noted that the bill’s sponsors were “trying to make things harder for Libertarians to make the ballot.” The editorial went on to point out the nature of the stakes: “The more choices on the ballot, the healthier our democracy. Voters deserve to have more than Democrats and Republicans to choose from.”
The notion that the ballot is overcrowded—that there isn’t enough space for “serious” candidates is absurd. Over half of the seats up for election in the Arkansas General Assembly in 2018 were unopposed. There would have been more, had it not been for the participation of Libertarian Party candidates in otherwise uncontested races. Nominees of the major political parties (often selected by nothing more than having paid the required fee to an established political party) coasted into office without their names ever being listed on a ballot. Arkansas voters are not suffering from too many choices the ballot—quite the opposite. A measure designed to further limit competition is unwarranted, unnecessary, and destructive to healthy democracy in Arkansas.
Another important consideration about SB 163: It is blatantly unconstitutional. It violates the clear edict of a 2006 federal court decision, Green Party of Arkansas v. Daniels, 445 F.Supp.2d 1056. In that case, the court held that “The three percent requirement to certify a new political party … violates plaintiffs’ associational rights guaranteed by the … United States Constitution…” This ruling was, in fact, the impetus for the legislature to adopt the 10,000-signature criterion in the first place. SB 163 proposes the return to precisely the same scheme that was overturned by the courts over a decade ago.
In a statement before the Arkansas Senate’s State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Chair of the Libertarian Party pointed out the anti-democratic nature of SB 163 and brought the constitutional issue before the committee. Although his statement was too late to prevent the bill from being passed out of committee, the point was clearly communicated before it went to a vote in the full senate. Nevertheless, it passed without any discussion of constitutional issues at all. Now it is before the House of Representatives.
The constitutional questions about SB 163 are important for the citizens of Arkansas. Given the clear precedent in this case, the law is unlikely to pass judicial scrutiny—but the taxpayers will be on the hook for mounting a legal defense. Meanwhile, in the process, the time and energy of third-party plaintiffs will be drained, leaving fewer available resources to launch effective campaigns in the election and depriving Arkansas voters of Libertarian options. The Libertarian Party of Arkansas will be weakened—at the expense of both taxpayers and voters who seek an alternative choice on their ballots.
The requirements of SB 163 represent more than simply a 270% increase in the cost of attaining ballot access. While raising the signature threshold, it leaves intact a limited 90-day petitioning period. To collect 27,000 signatures in 90 days requires 300 valid signatures per day, seven days a week, for three months. SB 163 also leaves intact the limitation that there is no recourse to amend petitions to make up for any shortage of signatures. The original submission must suffice. That means a prospective “new” political party must realistically collect at least 400 signatures per day to make sure that enough valid signatures are submitted. Such an endeavor would require a huge team of out-of-state professional canvassers and the cost might very well rise to six digits
If the members of the Arkansas General Assembly see fit to amend our state’s election laws, we suggest that reforms should be targeted to open the political process, not to lock it down. The Libertarian Party of Arkansas has recently proposed one such reform, the Political Party Inclusion Act. Recognizing that a political party is more than just one name at the top of the ticket, the PPIA would broaden the definition of a political party to allow new parties to gain a foothold. When the public dialogue includes more voices and the voters have more choices, the people of Arkansas benefit—even if it makes life a little bit more difficult for incumbents and their entrenched political parties.
SB 163 represents a blatant intent to suppress competition in the political process—specifically from the Libertarian Party. It also suffers from evident legal flaws. We ask all Arkansas voters who agree that more choices on the ballot means a healthier democracy to contact their Representatives in the Arkansas House and urge them to vote NO on SB 163.
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Links to information about SB163:
Democrat-Gazette Editorial – Ain’t Broke-Don’t Fix
The Log Cabin Democrat – The four words Dr. Pakko forgot
Arkansas Money & Politics – Competition is Good for Democracy, SB163 is Not
Democrat-Gazette – State legislator’s bill raises threshold for ballot access
Democrat-Gazette – Arkansas Senate panel waves on bill to raise bar of minor parties
Ballot Access News – Arkansas Bill to Increase Petition for New Party Ballot Access
The Paul Harrell Show – Pakko on Garner Bill: “Unconstitutional”
Video – Michael Pakko, LPAR Chair: Statement to the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs
Libertarian Party of Arkansas: The Political Party Inclusion Act