Judge Says Third Party Rule Unconstitutional; Orders the State to put Green Party of Arkansas Candidates on the November Ballot
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 8/23/2006?
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- A federal judge in Little Rock today agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union that Arkansas' rule for getting third party candidates on the ballot is unconstitutional.
“This is a great victory for the people of Arkansas,” said Rita Sklar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arkansas, which filed this case jointly with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Arkansans who want to run for political office and have political views different from those of the Democratic or Republican parties can now more easily participate in the political process. Voters also win because they are given more opportunity to support candidates who reflect their political views.”
The court ordered the state to put Green Party candidates on the ballot for this coming November election. In order to get on the ballot, Arkansas election law has required that an independent candidate provide 10,000 signatures of voters in the previous gubernatorial or presidential election, but that third party candidates must provide a full three percent of those signatures -- a much higher threshold. The judge said this rule violated Green Party members' and candidates' rights to association, and impedes their right to advance their political goals.
On May 30, 2006, the Green Party of Arkansas submitted approximately 18,000 signatures to the Secretary of State in support of its New Political Party Petition -- more than the 10,000 valid signatures required of an independent candidate, but clearly fewer than 24,171 that would have been required to satisfy the three percent mandate. The Secretary of State refused to accept the petition, claiming it lacked the requisite number of signatures.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on June 27, asking the judge to declare the rule for third parties unconstitutional and to order the state to put Green Party candidates on the ballot. Today the judge affirmed the ACLU's position. The state's argument for the rule was that the state had a legitimate interest in ensuring parties have a ‘modicum of support', or else the ballot could become “crowded,” a condition where a ballot is found too cluttered with names to be really useful for the voter. The state also said the third party had to demonstrate a “modicum of support” to get on the ballot.
Directly addressing the state's arguments the court today found that: “Arkansas's three percent requirement in its party recognition scheme is not narrowly drawn to serve a compelling state interest. The 10,000 signature threshold is a sufficient modicum of support to serve the state's interest in avoiding cluttered ballots and the evidence shows quite clearly that the three percent requirement is much higher than necessary as it imposes a severe burden under the First and Fourteenth Amendments on the associational rights of the Green Party and the candidates who are plaintiffs in this case….” (emphasis added).
“State law has effectively denied ballot access to third parties,” said ACLU of Arkansas staff attorney Holly Dickson. “This law has been so burdensome that third parties really could not sponsor a slate of candidates. Democracy doesn't function unless the people are heard. This decision puts every Arkansan in a better position to have their voices heard. That's what this country is all about.”
Today's ruling is online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/access/26515lgl20060823.html