ACLU of Massachusetts Files Suit Seeking Ballot Place for Third Party Candidates

August 6, 2008 12:00 am

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Massachusetts Elections Division refuses to place names of Libertarian Party’s nominees for President and Vice President on November ballot


BOSTON – In a lawsuit aimed at ensuring the franchise for Massachusetts voters, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has filed suit seeking ballot access on behalf of Bob Barr and Wayne A. Root, the candidates of the national Libertarian Party for President and Vice President of the United States. Despite earlier indicating that it would do so, the Massachusetts Elections Division has refused to place the names of the Libertarian Party’s nominees on the ballot.

“The central issue in this case is the restriction of ballot access for third parties, which has been and continues to be a problem in Massachusetts,” said John Reinstein, Legal Director for the ACLU of Massachusetts, a non-partisan civil liberties organization.

“The right of political parties or candidates to a place on the ballot bears directly on the right of citizens to vote. If parties or candidates are kept off the ballot, their adherents are compelled to vote for representatives other that those of their choice,” said Reinstein. “The denial of a place on the ballot thus constitutes a deprivation of the franchise.”

In July 2007, Dr. George Phillies, the leading Massachusetts candidate of the Libertarian Party, wrote to the Massachusetts Elections Division to explain that he foresaw a potential problem: required signature gathering for placement on the Massachusetts ballot needed to begin before the national Libertarian Party’s nominating convention on May 25, 2008. Phillies asked about the possibility of substituting the name of the final Libertarian Party candidate on the ballot if the nominee selected at the party’s convention differed from the one submitted at the time of the signature-gathering deadline.

The Massachusetts Election Division responded:

If the Libertarian Party seeks to substitute a candidate for President who they already got signatures for on nominating papers, our Office can prepare a form that allows members of the party to request the substitution of the candidate.

At the national Libertarian Party’s nominating convention on May 25, 2008, the party selected former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr as its nominee for president, and Wayne A. Root as its vice presidential nominee. Dr. Phillies, who finished fifth, re-contacted the Massachusetts Elections Division to inform them of the need for substitution. On June 5, 2008, the Division denied this request, stating that the party would need to repeat the process of signature gathering to place new names on the ballot.

“The Libertarian Party sought to head off this problem well in advance. We are in this situation because we received mixed messages from the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s office,” said Dr. Phillies.

“Requiring smaller political parties to re-gather signatures for their final nominees is a significant and burdensome expense and thus serves as a barrier to their full participation in the electoral process,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We urge the Massachusetts Elections Division to ensure the right to vote by returning to its prior stance of allowing substitution of the final nominees on the ballot.”

The plaintiffs in the suit are represented by ACLUM cooperating attorneys at the firm of Foley Hoag LLP, and by John Reinstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

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