ACLU and Libertarian Party Ask Court to Correct New Virginia Ballot Labeling Law

July 24, 2001 12:00 am

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RICHMOND–The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal lawsuit challenging Virginia’s new law governing political party labels on ballots as misleading and unfair.

Under the law, major political party candidates will be labeled by party affiliation, whereas all other candidates, regardless of party affiliation, will be labeled “Independent.”

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Virginia and the Southern Regional office of the national ACLU, asks the U.S. District Court to issue a preliminary injunction ordering the State Board of Elections to identify all qualified candidates on ballots by the name of their party.

“”In addition to favoring major political parties over smaller parties, this law is grossly misleading to voters,”” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “”Members of the Libertarian, Green or Reform Parties are unequivocally not ‘Independents,’ and ‘Independents’ are unequivocally not members of these parties.””

“”At the very time the nation is focused on election reform, Virginia seems to have taken a step backward,”” he added.

The law affects all statewide, legislative and federal elections, except for presidential elections. Prior to this year, Virginia law forbade the printing of party labels on ballots except for presidential elections.

According to the law, which took effect on January 1, 2001, candidates nominated for office by “recognized” political parties will have their names and party affiliation printed on ballots. However, in order to be “recognized,” a party must have run a candidate for statewide office in at least one of the two preceding elections, and that candidate must have received 10 percent or more of the vote in one of those elections.

Under this definition, only the Republican and Democratic Party candidates are currently qualified to be identified on ballots by their party name. All other qualified candidates, whether running as individuals or for a political party, will be labeled as Independents.

Lawyers for the ACLU represent the Libertarian Party of Virginia and four Libertarian Party candidates.

Plaintiffs William Redpath and Gary Reams have qualified to appear on the ballot as candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor respectively. Plaintiffs Timothy Belton and John Girardeau intend to qualify as candidates for the 65th and 72nd House of Delegates districts respectively. Two additional plaintiffs, John Buckely and Shelley Tamres, are Virginia voters who regularly support Libertarian Candidates.

“”As a small party candidate who receives less attention from the media than the major party candidates, I am not as well known as they are,” said Redpath. “If I am labeled as an Independent, many voters will still not know who I am. However, what I stand for will be absolutely clear when they see Libertarian Party next to my name on the ballot. My party affiliation is a valuable piece of information for voters, and they have a right to know it.”

“We Libertarians are proud of our political point of view and want to establish our own ‘brand awareness’ with voters,” added Reams. “The older parties should not be afraid to compete with our new brand. We want the voters to make an informed decision in every election.”

“As a result of the redistricting process,” said Girardeau, “several unhappy Democrats and Republicans have announced that they plan to leave their parties and run as Independents. I am a proud Libertarian and wish to be identified as a Libertarian. I do not want the voters to confuse me with the disgruntled Democrats and Republicans who have abandoned their parties and who should correctly be identified as Independents.”

ACLU lawyers representing the Libertarian Party are Bryan Sells, Neil Bradley and Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU’s Southern Regional Office in Atlanta, and Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia.

A copy of the complaint and the memorandum in support of the motion for preliminary injunction, which were filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond late yesterday, can be found on the ACLU of Virginia website ( Click on Legal Action and look under Voting Rights cases.

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