Libertarians Challenge Arkansas Ballot Rules at 8th Circuit

ST. LOUIS (CN) – The Libertarian Party of Arkansas argued before an Eighth Circuit panel Wednesday that the state’s new election law requiring more than double the signatures within a 90-day timeframe to get on the ballot is unconstitutional.

(Photo by KELSEY JUKAM/Courthouse News Service)

At issue is a new law increasing the number of signatures needed for a new party formation to appear on a ballot from 10,000 to more than 26,000. State law previously stated that a new party needed either 3% of the state’s population – roughly 26,000 – or 10,000 to get a candidate on the ballot. The new law only includes the 3% threshold instead of the lower alternative number.

“You have a deadline to turn in the petition signatures,” James C. Linger, an attorney representing the Libertarian Party, said after Wednesday’s hearing. “This one this year is Sept. 5, the year before the election, 14 months, and you have to petition many months before that. No other state has that. Secondly, you only have 90 days. Most states have one year or an unlimited amount of time to collect the signatures.”

Linger added that the 3% requirement is one of the highest in the country. He said that alone is not unconstitutional, but when paired with the other restrictions, Arkansas’ ballot requirements as a whole are unlawful.

He also noted that similar high thresholds imposed by the state in 1996 and 2006 had both been found unconstitutional.

Arkansas Solicitor General Nicholas J. Bronni, representing the state, declined to comment to reporters after the hearing.

“All ballot access challenges impose burdens … That’s the point of a ballot access challenge,” Bronni told the three-judge panel.

Bronni noted that when the Sept. 5 filing deadline passed, two presidential debates had already occurred and another was planned, using that point to argue the election cycle was already underway.

He also argued that the evidence presented to the district court showed the Libertarians did not properly organize their signature drive and failed to follow up with volunteers.

Bronni said courts have previously held that signature gathering has been made easier with the advance of social media. He also said that the cost of organizing the signature drive, which he estimated at $55,000, was modest in terms of modern election costs and did not impose a burden.

He also argued that the law at issue treats every party equally and holds Republicans and Democrats to the same standard.

The state Libertarian Party turned in 18,702 petition signatures for the 2020 general election, of which 12,749 were found to be valid. It filed a lawsuit in Eastern District of Arkansas claiming the law was not narrowly tailored and seeking injunctive relief, which the court granted.

In granting the injunction, the court found that the state did not meet its burden of showing that the challenged statutes were narrowly drawn to serve a compelling interest.

Arkansas argued Wednesday in the Eighth Circuit that the district court’s ruling conflicted with decades of precedent upholding significantly larger signature requirements.

The case was argued before U.S. Circuit Judges Ralph R. Erickson and Jonathan A. Kobes, both appointees of President Donald Trump, and Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Michael J. Melloy, a George W. Bush appointee. There is no timetable for a decision.

The Libertarian Party’s attorney, Linger, backed the lower court’s ruling in the post-hearing interview.

“Anything [the] district court would have done different, like take another six months to petition or let’s have a different deadline or anything like that, would have been more disruptive because it would have affected other election dates,” he said. “And the 10,000 signatures, it wasn’t like the court made it up. That’s what it had been for the last 12 years.”

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