ACLU Challenges 100-Year-Old Kansas Law Limiting Ballot Access Based on Length of Political Party's Name

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
August 22, 2002 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

KANSAS CITY- The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri and the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project today filed a federal lawsuit challenging a 100-year-old Kansas law — the only one of its kind in the nation — that unfairly restricts access to election ballots by limiting the names of political parties to two words, one of which must be “”party.””

“”There is no more important right in a democracy than the right of people to organize and participate in the political process,”” said Dick Kurtenbach, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. “”I’ve got two words for this law: unconstitutional and absurd.”

The lawsuit, Natural Law Party of Kansas v. Thornburgh, is filed on behalf of the Natural Law Party of Kansas and Nancy Brune, a Kansas voter and a supporter of the Natural Law Party.

“”These ballot restrictions make it impossible for the Natural Law Party to organize effectively in Kansas,”” said Bryan Sells, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project and lead counsel in the case. “”This law denies the party numerous advantages, including ballot access, which are available in Kansas only to parties with two words in their chosen names.””

According to the ACLU complaint, the state statute deprives the Natural Law Party the opportunity to increase party name recognition through the petitioning process and limits the party’s ability to inform Kansas voters of its affiliation with the ideas and positions espoused by the Natural Law Party’s national organization.

Sells further noted that the restriction is tied only to the number of words in a party’s name, but not the length of the name. “”The Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party are allowed to operate in Kansas even though their names are longer than the Natural Law Party. This statute simply has no legitimate justification.””

The antiquated law is a relic of partisan politics from the turn of the 20th century, when the Peoples’ (Populist) Party joined forces with the Democratic Party in an effort to challenge the Republican incumbents. The new party’s name was longer in order to reflect its two merged parts. After narrowly defeating candidates from the new Peoples-Democratic Party in the bitterly contested election of 1900, the Republican-controlled Kansas legislature passed a law making it impossible for the party to ever appear on the ballot again.

The Natural Law Party is a national political party founded in April 1992. It identifies itself as “”America’s fastest growing new party”” and seeks to “”bring the light of science into politics”” by supporting programs such as prevention-oriented health care.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks to have the court declare the statute unlawful and award the plaintiffs nominal damages. John Simpson, general counsel of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri is serving as co-counsel in the case.

The legal complaint in the case is online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/thornburgh.pdf

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