Judge OKs Arizona Signature Requirement to Make Ballot

PHOENIX (CN) — Arizona did not discriminate against the Libertarian Party by changing the formula by which its candidates qualify for the ballot, a federal judge ruled, finding it “difficult to conclude that Arizona’s requirement is unconstitutionally burdensome.”

U.S. District Judge David Campbell on Tuesday granted summary judgment to Arizona’s secretary of state, finding that Arizona’s new signature requirements for primary and write-in candidates are not inherently unfair to the Arizona Libertarian Party.

The party challenged House Bill 2608, which took effect in July 2015, and amended Arizona Revised Statutes 16-321 and 16-322. ARS 16-321 expanded the pool of “qualified signers” of nomination petitions.

“Arizona law provides that a party qualifies for continued representation on the general ballot if its registered members compromise at least two-thirds of 1 percent of total registered voters,” Campbell wrote. The state’s Libertarian Party qualifies this way.

To get on the general election ballot, a candidate from a continued-representation party must “file a nomination petition that includes a specified number of signatures from voters in the relevant jurisdiction,” and then win the party primary, the judge continued.
HB 2608 redefined the pool “qualified signers” to include “(1) registered members of the candidate’s party (2) registered members of a political party that is not entitled to continued representation on the ballot under ARS § 16-804, and (3) voters who are registered as independent or having no party preference. ARS § 16-321(F). This redefined pool applies whether a candidate’s party holds an open or a closed primary,” Campbell wrote in his order.

In other words, the changes expanded the pool of qualified signers. “Although HB 2608 lowered the prescribed percentage of the pool from which candidates must obtain signatures, it actually increased the number of signatures closed-primary candidates must obtain by increasing the pool of signers against which the percentage is measured,” according to the 30-page ruling.

Parties also may qualify for continued representation on the ballot if its members cast 5 percent of the total votes for governor or president in the previous general elections. The Arizona Libertarian Party does not qualify using that method. It sued Secretary of State Michele Reagan in April 2016, saying the law unfairly burdened smaller political parties.

“Prior to its amendment in 2015, Section 16-322 required that a Libertarian candidate for United States Senate or statewide office submit a nomination petition with 134 signatures,” the party said in its complaint. “That requirement has now increased to 3,023 signatures — a burden 22.55 times greater than the prior requirement.”

“Because the major parties have so many more members, their candidates can comply with those signature requirements easily, without relying on non-members for support,” the complaint states.

Campbell compared the complaint to that of the Socialist Workers Party in Washington, which sued Secretary of State Ralph Munro over a law that required minor party candidates to receive at least 1 percent of all votes in the primary to get on the general election ballot.

In rejecting the Libertarians’ arguments, Campbell cited U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Jenness v. Fortson (1971), American Party of Texas v. White (1974), and Munro v. Socialist Workers Party (1986)

“Plaintiffs in this case make essentially the same argument as the plaintiffs in Munro,” Campbell wrote. “They cite statistics showing that it is now more difficult for their candidates to qualify for the primary and general election ballots. But the Supreme Court in Munro, American Party, and Jenness upheld state ballot qualification laws that were more burdensome than Arizona’s. The laws in these cases required candidates to demonstrate support of between 1 percent and 5 percent of all registered voters, where Arizona requires only between 0.25 percent and 0.50 percent of the smaller pool of qualified signers – and, as shown above, an even smaller percentage of registered voters. In light of these Supreme Court cases and the discussion of actual election results in Munro, the Court cannot conclude that plaintiffs have shown an unconstitutional burden.”

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