ACLU of Arkansas Takes Ballot Access Case to Federal Court on Behalf of Green Party Candidates

Affiliate: ACLU of Arkansas
August 17, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU Goes to Court for the Second Time to Defend Access to the Ballot

LITTLE ROCK, AR — The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas made its case in federal court today for Arkansas to officially recognize the state Green Party. At stake is access to the ballot for third party candidates and preservation of free public political dialogue.

“We’re pleased that we were able to show the court how burdensome the party recognition scheme is for new parties like the Green Party,” said Bryan Sells, a staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, who argued the case. “This scheme effectively excludes them from the playing field in the competition of ideas.”

In order to get on the ballot, Arkansas election law requires that an independent candidate provide 10,000 signatures of voters in the previous gubernatorial or presidential election, but that third party candidates must provide a full three percent of those signatures — a much higher threshold.

On May 30, 2006, the Green Party of Arkansas submitted approximately 18,000 signatures to the Secretary of State in support of its New Political Party Petition — more than the 10,000 valid signatures required of an independent candidate, but clearly fewer than the 24,171 that would have been required to satisfy the three-percent mandate. The Secretary of State refused to accept the petition, claiming it lacked the requisite number of signatures.

“We are hopeful that the court will recognize this important right,” said Holly Dickson, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Arkansas. “The party has the right to express its political philosophy in the public arena, and the public has a right to hear a variety of ideas — and not just those of the two major parties.”

Today’s hearing took place before Federal Judge George Howard, Jr., the same judge who declared the signature provision in the law unconstitutional in 1996. In that case, Judge Howard held that the number of signatures required of new parties seeking recognition must be the same as the number required of independent candidates seeking ballot access. The court said that the three percent signature requirement for new political parties was “an arbitrary classification” that made it “unreasonably difficult for proponents to advance new political parties,” and that proponents of a political party should be allowed to submit the same finite number of signatures established for independent candidates. The decision was affirmed in a 2001 ACLU case.

“In Arkansas it appears that there has long been a deliberate effort on the part of legislators to keep minor parties off the ballot,” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar. “Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor eloquently expressed the need for oversight of state election schemes in her concurring opinion in Clingman v. Beaver: ‘Although the State has a legitimate—and indeed critical—role to play in regulating elections, it must be recognized that it is not a wholly independent or neutral arbiter. Rather, the State is itself controlled by the political party or parties in power, which presumably have an incentive to shape the rules of the electoral game to their own benefit.’”

Judge Howard said that his decision would be rendered no later than August 24, 2006.

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