ACLU Challenges Montana's Flawed System For Third Party Ballot Access
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State Rules Violate The Rights Of Candidates And Voters, Lawsuit Charges
HELENA, MT – The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Montana filed a lawsuit in federal court late yesterday challenging Montana’s scheme for getting independent and minor-party candidates on the ballot. In the lawsuit, the ACLU charges that the state’s burdensome system for non-major party candidates seeking to run for office is unconstitutional and asks the court to prohibit state officials from enforcing it in this year’s elections.
“Montana’s system unduly protects the major parties from competition, limits voter choice, and ultimately undermines our democracy,” said Bryan Sells, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project and a specialist in ballot-access litigation. “Candidates and voters with views different from those of the major political parties have the right to easily participate in the political process, but these restrictive ballot access rules create unnecessary hurdles that prevent a robust democratic process from functioning.”
Under Montana law, independent and minor-party candidates can appear on the general election ballot only if they submit the signatures of 5% of the total votes cast for the successful candidate for the same office in the last general election. A 2007 state law also added a filing fee and moved the petition deadline from June to March – more than 200 days before the election. Major-party candidates, by contrast, do not have to submit any signatures in order to appear on the primary ballot, and they appear on the general election ballot automatically when they win a primary election.
“Everybody loses under Montana’s rules because it’s nearly impossible for independent and minor-party candidates to appear on the ballot,” said Scott Crichton, Executive Director of the ACLU of Montana. “Montanans deserve better than a flawed two-tiered system designed to limit the choices that reflect their interests.”
The lawsuit, Kelly v. Johnson, was filed late yesterday in the United States District Court for the District of Montana and charges that the state’s ballot-access scheme violates the rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It was filed on behalf of would-be U.S. Senate candidate Steve Kelly and voter Clarice Dreyer, both of Bozeman, MT. Kelly ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Representative in 1994 and is the last independent candidate for statewide office to appear on the ballot. The defendant is Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson.
Kelly said that the new filing fee and March deadline are particularly burdensome. “Montana’s rules stack the deck against candidates who don’t belong to a major party. The early deadline effectively means that I have to raise a lot of money and collect an enormous number of signatures in the dead of winter,” Kelly said. “Voters and potential contributors just aren’t interested or available that far in advance of the election.”
Attorneys on this case are Sells and Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project and Elizabeth Griffing of the ACLU of Montana.
A copy of the complaint is available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/access/34824lgl20080408.html
More information on the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights
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