Arizona Deadlines Not Unfair to Third Parties

     (CN) — The deadline for a political party to achieve state recognition in Arizona is not unfair to the state’s Green Party, the Ninth Circuit ruled Friday.     
     In Arizona, if a party does not win at least five percent of the vote in the previous general election, it can gain state recognition by acquiring a certain number of qualified signatures 180 days before the upcoming primary.
     Such was the predicament Arizona’s Green Party found itself in when it won less than five percent of the vote for governor in 2010. It lost its official status in 2013 and sought to regain it by petition in 2014, but failed to gather the necessary 23,401 signatures before the deadline.
     The Green Party challenged the constitutionality of the deadline in court, naming Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan as the defendant. The district court ruled in favor of the secretary and the party appealed.
     U.S. Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown delivered the Ninth Circuit panel’s unanimous decision. She wrote that, quite simply, the Green Party failed to provide any evidence that the deadline tangibly violates its rights.
     “Without evidence of the specific obstacles to ballot access that the deadline imposes, the Green Party did not establish that its rights are severely burdened,” she wrote in an 18-page opinion.
     The party claims that, among other things, the deadline “increases costs faced by third parties” and that gathering signatures related to an election that is months away and out of the news cycle is a burden. However, it offered no evidence to support these claims.
     “[W]e do not know how difficult it was for the Green Party to collect the required signatures, how much the signature-gathering effort cost, whether petition efforts diverted the Party’s resources from other endeavors, whether the ‘mind of the general public’ was diverted from the election at the time the Party sought to collect signatures, how difficult it has been for new parties to comply with the deadline historically, or even if the Party attempted to comply with the deadline at all,” McKeown wrote.
     By contrast, the court found that the Secretary presented a great deal of evidence that the deadline is necessary to conduct an orderly election. Pushing back the deadline for party recognition signature collecting would leave candidates for new parties very little time to collect signatures to appear on the primary ballot. Also, the state needs time to translate the ballots into Spanish and Native American languages.
     McKeown acknowledged the importance of third-parties in the political process, but stressed that balance is key to the ruling.
     “Balancing the impact of the 180-day filing deadline on the Green Party’s rights against Arizona’s interests in maintaining that deadline, we conclude that the Green Party has not demonstrated an unconstitutional interference with ballot access,” she concluded.
     Julia Damron from Los Angeles represented the Green Party and Deputy State Attorney General James Driscoll-MacEachron represented Reagan.
     Neither attorney could be reached for comment, and the Arizona Attorney General’s office said that it does not have a statement on the ruling. The Green Party did not respond to messages seeking comment.
     “The reason why this deadline is 180 days away from the general is because of all the process steps and ballot-building procedures that have to be done in a tightly synchronized way,” Eric Spencer, the State Election Director, said in an interview.
     He emphasized that he hopes the Green Party petitions for official recognition again and requalifies.
     “Third-parties are a crucial element of democracy,” he said. “We hope this ruling isn’t interpreted as a slap in the face to third-parties.”

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