ACLU Lawsuit Seeks Ballot Access for Green Party and Other Third Parties in Special Elections in Arkansas

September 4, 2001 12:00 am

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LITTLE ROCK, AR–Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the national ACLU’s Voting Rights Project filed a lawsuit in federal district court in on behalf of the Green Party of Arkansas, which does not currently have access to ballots in off-year elections.

If successful, the lawsuit would open up access for any new, emerging, and not yet officially recognized parties to take the necessary steps under the pre-set deadlines to get a candidate on the ballot in off-year or “”special”” elections.

Of immediate concern is the special election that will be held on November 20, 2001 in Arkansas’ Third Congressional District to fill the office just vacated by former Congressman Asa Hutchinson, the new Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In legal papers, the ACLU contends that this prohibition violates potential third-party candidates’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

“”When you put an onerous burden on a small party to be able to participate in an election, you not only deny that party and its candidate their First Amendment right to have their political views considered, but you undermine the democratic system itself,”” said ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar.

“”When the more popular political parties can get on the ballot more easily than others, we all lose,”” she added. “”Voters are then forced into choosing between only the two most popular political views, rather than the one which best represents their interests.””

According to the ACLU lawsuit, on September 1, 2001, the Green Party of Arkansas held a convention pursuant to Arkansas law, at which Sarah Marsh, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was nominated as the party’s candidate for U.S. Representative in the special election to be held in the Third District.

However, under Arkansas law, in order to appear on the ballot as a party candidate in a general or special election, the candidate must have been nominated by a “recognized” political party. Because the Green Party of Arkansas is not a political party recognized by the Secretary of State, Sarah Marsh will not be included on the ballot in the special election.

In Arkansas, a party seeking recognition must file a petition with the Secretary of State containing the signatures of qualified Arkansas voters equal in number to at least three percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of Governor or presidential electors, whichever is less, at the last preceding election. However, a 1996 decision in Citizens to Establish a Reform Party v. Priest found that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the number of signatures required of new parties seeking recognition be the same as the number (10,000) required of independent candidates seeking ballot access.

Adding to the burden is the requirement that a party seeking recognition file its petition “no later than the first Monday in May before the general election.” However, a party may not begin to circulate its petitions until 150 days before the deadline, which falls in early December of the year preceding a general election. Since Arkansas holds general elections in even-numbered years, and the next general election is scheduled for 2002, under Arkansas’ party recognition scheme it is impossible for a not yet recognized party to gain recognition in time to run an election to be held November, 2001.

“It seems the whole scheme was set up to discourage new parties, and hence, new ideas,” said Sklar. “It’s downright Un-American

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