Libertarians prevail on ballot access challenge
In a ruling issued on July 3, 2019, the Libertarian Party of Arkansas (LPAR) won an important victory in Federal Court. Judge Kristine G. Baker issued an order of preliminary injunction to overturn the requirements imposed on “new political parties” by Act 164 of the Arkansas General Assembly, adopted and signed into law in February.
Act 164 increased the requirements for third parties to place their candidates on the ballot from 10,000 petition signatures to 3% of the vote in the last Gubernatorial election, presently 26,746 signatures. The Libertarian Party had argued that raising the bar for ballot access was unwarranted and unnecessary. Libertarians also complained about the limited 90-day window required for collecting petition signatures, as well as the fact that the deadline for turning in petitions had been moved forward to September of 2019.
The Court agreed: “There is no record evidence before the Court that explains the State’s interest – let alone a compelling one – in requiring new political parties to meet the three percent requirement, file a petition more than a year in advance of the general election, and collect signatures in a 90-day window.”
Michael Pakko, Chair of the LPAR, was enthusiastic about the ruling. “This ruling vindicates our complaints all along. Act 164 was nothing more than an effort to restrict competition in the political process by making it more difficult, if not impossible, for the Libertarian Party to continue to challenge the status quo duopoly. The judge’s ruling gives us an opportunity to put Libertarian candidates before the voters in 2020, and I’m confident that a final ruling will help us level the playing field for all alternative political parties in the future.”
The preliminary injunction issued yesterday is limited in scope. It enjoins the Secretary of State from enforcing Arkansas statutes “to the extent that these statutes impose the three percent requirement …” and from “restricting ballot access to the LPAR as a new political party” if it meets a 10,000-signature requirement. The ruling did not extend the time period for collecting petition signatures, nor did it change the contested deadline.
“The important thing,” said Pakko “is that our petitions will be counted and Libertarians will most assuredly be on the Arkansas ballot in 2020.”
Just last week, on Friday, June 28, the LPAR turned in a total of 18,667 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. Election officials received the petitions but had not yet accepted them for validation, awaiting clarification from the Court as to the standard to use for assessing “sufficiency.” Yesterday’s ruling clarifies the status of those petitions. If at least 56% of the signatures are confirmed as valid registered voters, the LPAR will have met the requirement to run candidates in the 2020 elections. The validity rate of Libertarian petitions for the 2016 and 2018 elections were 76% and 84%, respectively.
A full hearing of the case, Libertarian Party of Arkansas et al v. Thurston, (4:19-cv-00214) is scheduled for trial before Judge Baker in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas, on May 11, 2020.
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Full text of the ruling: PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION ORDER
Ballot Access News: U.S. District Court Enjoins New Arkansas Petition 3% Requirement
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Judge blocks new rule to get parties on ballot in state
Arkansas Times Blog: Libertarian Party halts new law aimed at restricting ballot access