Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Montana Green Party Files Federal Lawsuit, Challenging Constitutionality of New Party Ballot Access Petition

Ballot Access News

On August 13, the Montana Green Party filed a federal lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality of the procedure for a group to become a qualified party. Montana Green Party v Stapleton, 6:18cv-87. Here is the Complaint.

The lawsuit attacks two characteristics of the law: (1) the March 5 petition deadline; (2) the unequal distribution requirement. The Montana law says the petition must contain a certain number of signatures in 34 of the state’s 100 state house districts. Unlike all other states’ distribution requirements for statewide petitions for new parties or independent candidates, the number of signatures required in each district is not equal. Instead of requiring, for example, 100 signatures in each of 34 districts, the Montana law says the number of signatures in each of the districts must equal 5% of the winning gubernatorial candidate’s vote total inside that district, or 150 signatures, whichever is less. Therefore, some districts require as few as 55 signatures, but others require as many as 150.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that distribution requirements for statewide petitions that are not equal, violate “one person, one vote.” Other states with distribution requirements for statewide petitions require an equal number of signatures, or an equal percentage of the total vote cast: Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania (primary petitions only), and Virginia.

Each voter in a Montana district that only requires 55 signatures has more power than a voter who lives in a district with a requirement for 150 signatures. The 2018 Green Party petition would have had enough valid signatures if it had not been for a recent state court ruling that it didn’t meet the distribution requirement. Montana did not have a distribution requirement for new parties until 1981, and it has never had one for independent candidates.

As to the March 5 deadline, other states with deadlines that early, or even later, for new party petitions (or new party candidate petitions), have been struck down in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California (for presidential elections), Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah (for special elections). If the state argues that the early deadline is needed to give the new party its own primary, the response is that states don’t need to give newly-qualifying parties their own primary. The case against early deadlines is especially in strong in states with severe winter weather, such as Montana.

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