Federal judge declares parts of state election law unconstitutional

Deadlines, signature rules violate Libertarians’ 1st, 14th Amendment rights

By: - October 2, 2022 7:48 pm

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Six parts of Arkansas election law are unconstitutional and “impose a severe burden” on “new political parties” seeking to get their candidates on election ballots, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker wrote in an opinion and order that the Libertarian Party of Arkansas met its burden of proof in its suit against Secretary of State John Thurston.

“Accordingly, the Court declares unconstitutional Arkansas Code Annotated 7–7–101, 7–7–203(c)(1), 7–7–205(a)(2), 7–7–205(a)(4)(B), 7–7–205(a)(6), and 7–7–205(c)(3) both facially and as applied to plaintiffs for the 2019–2020 and all subsequent Arkansas General Election cycles,” Baker wrote in her 83-page opinion.

Those sections of the law “collectively impose a severe burden upon plaintiffs’ rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” Baker wrote.

In the accompanying order, Baker enjoined Thurston from enforcing those sections of state election law.

LIBERTARIAN JUDGMENT

The sections of the law at the center of the lawsuit, filed in 2019, affect how many signatures a new political party must obtain on a petition to get its candidates on a statewide ballot, the amount of time allowed for petition drives, the deadlines for filing petitions, and how new parties nominate their candidates.

Prior to 2019, the Libertarian Party had been recognized as a party eligible to have its candidates identified as such on statewide ballots.

One portion of the law changed the number of signatures required for the Libertarian Party to remain a recognized political party after the 2020 election to 3% of the total votes cast for the nominees for presidential electors in Arkansas.

The party failed to receive the requisite 3% of the total votes cast for presidential electors and, “therefore, ceased to be recognized as a political party in Arkansas,” the judge wrote.

For a new political party to be recognized for the 2021-2022 election cycle, it had to collect 26,746 valid signatures of registered voters over a 90-day period and file with the Secretary of State’s office by Dec. 24, 2021, according to the court’s opinion.

Baker issued a preliminary injunction in the case in 2019, and the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed it in 2020, meaning the state was not allowed to enforce the disputed sections of the law until a final ruling.

On Saturday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette he would review Baker’s decision with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge “and assess whether this case should be appealed.”

In addition to the Libertarian Party, the lawsuit’s five named plaintiffs included gubernatorial candidate Ricky Harrington Jr. and Michael Pakko of Little Rock, the chairman of the party.

“Judge Baker laid out all the arguments and found in our favor on every substantive issue in the case,” Pakko tol the Democrat-Gazette.

He said the ruling guarantees that, if the party has to petition for recognition again, “we won’t be burdened by these objectionable deadlines and restrictions.”

Since 2007 and prior to the passage of the new requirements in 2019, only two political parties have successfully petitioned for recognition in Arkansas, Baker’s opinion noted: the Green Party in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014, and the Libertarian Party in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.

In a press release Saturday, the Libertarian Party said it looks forward to working with the Legislature to “craft a more fair and equitable process for political parties to gain access to the ballot in Arkansas.

 

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Sonny Albarado, Arkansas Advocate
Sonny Albarado, Arkansas Advocate

In his 50-year career, Sonny Albarado has been an investigations editor, a business editor, a city editor, an environmental reporter and a government reporter at newspapers in Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana. Most recently, he retired from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after serving as projects editor for 12 ½ years. He got his start in journalism as editor of the Nicholls Worth, the student newspaper at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1973. Nicholls awarded him an honorary Doctor of Letters in 2014.

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