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Green Party files suit over alleged sham candidates

The Arizona Green Party is asking a federal judge for an injunction that would keep a slate of alleged Trojan horse candidates off the ballot in November.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 7 in U.S. District Court by the Democratic-tied firm Coppersmith Schermer & Brockelman, names 11 Green Party candidates who were also the subject a complaint filed by the Arizona Democratic Party the prior week. The candidates were not endorsed by the Arizona Green Party, and the party has accused Republicans of running them to siphon votes away from Democrats.

Attorney Roopali Desai, who is representing the Green Party in the case, said the candidates are violating the 1st and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. She said their candidacies also violate a section of the Arizona Constitution that requires “purity of elections.”

The number of votes needed by write-in Democratic, Libertarian and Republican candidates in their respective primaries is based on the number of registered voters that party has in an election. But because the Green Party is newly recognized as a political party that can appear on the ballot – it lost its official ballot status after the 2008 election and regained it earlier this year – write-in candidates only need a plurality of votes to get on the ballot, which means a Green write-in candidate can win the party’s nomination with a single vote.

Several of the candidates named in the lawsuit will represent the Green Party in the general election after getting fewer than five votes in the primary. Two won their primaries with just one vote.

Desai argued that the law allowing Green write-ins to get on the ballot with just one vote violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because it treats the Green Party differently than Democrats, Libertarians and Republicans.

“These sham candidates have used a statutory provision that allows minority political parties to have write-in candidates with only a single vote,” Desai said. “These candidates have sort of used this provision improperly in order to confuse voters (and) siphon votes from legitimate candidates.”

Desai also argued that the candidates have violated the 1st Amendment by infringing on the Green Party’s right to associate with candidates that represent its beliefs and values. Democratic and Republican write-in candidates, she said, face greater obstacles to get on the ballot and therefore need at least some party support.

“Even as write-in candidates they’re required to get a certain amount of votes,” Desai said of Democratic and Republican candidates. “So there has to be some modicum of support from people in those political parties in order to advance.”

The Arizona Green Party said none of the candidates listed in either complaint have been endorsed by the party. The party is also opposing other Green candidates who were not named in the lawsuit or in an earlier complaint filed by the Arizona Democratic Party, including Green gubernatorial candidate Larry Gist. The Green Party accused the GOP of trying to “hijack” the party.

“Today’s lawsuit requests the invalidation of a statute which creates a separate but unequal category of political party, that applies only to the Arizona Green Party, in a way that mocks our substantial and consistent efforts for two decades, against unreasonable barriers, to provide the voters of Arizona with meaningful alternatives to politics as usual,” Arizona Green Party co-chairman Claudia Ellquist said in a press statement.

On Aug. 30, the Arizona Democratic Party filed a complaint with county, state and federal prosecutors alleging that 13 write-in Green candidates were recruited by Republicans. They accused Republican Rep. Jim Weiers, former Rep. Steve May and others of violating election laws by recruiting the candidates, though legal experts say the practice is likely legal.

Weiers denied recruiting any Green candidates into the race, though he acknowledged speaking with one candidate – a roommate of his daughter and son – about his campaign. Weiers faced similar allegations in 2008 after Green candidate Margarite Dale, who had close ties to the former House speaker, contributed to Democrat Jackie Thrasher’s loss.

May, a House candidate in District 17, said he recruited four of the candidates but did so to help out friends who wanted to run for office. He said the four, all of whom are street people he knows from hanging out on Mill Avenue, have the same right as anyone else to run for office.

May said he did not recruit them into the race to shave votes from Democratic candidates, but said he sees nothing unethical about the practice. He accused Democrats of recruiting a homeless write-in candidate to run against him in the GOP primary – a charge Johnson denied – and said they have run Libertarian candidates against him in the past.

“I wish I had more people,” May said. If the Democrats don’t like it, “that’s just too bad.”

When contacted by the Arizona Capitol Times, Ellquist would not say whether the party paid for Coppersmith Schermer’s services, or if the legal fees were paid by a third party. When asked the question, Ellquist said she was getting another call and hung up; she didn’t answer her phone after that.

Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said the Democratic Party is paying some of the costs of the lawsuit. She said she did not know who was paying the remainder of the costs.

“We agree with the Green Party that these are not legitimate candidates. Republicans are playing games. They’re trying to confuse voters and they’re trying to siphon votes, period,” Johnson said.

If an injunction is coming, it will have to come quickly. Maricopa County begins printing its ballots on Sept. 10, and the other 14 counties start printing shortly after that. Under state and federal law, all ballots must be printed in time to send them to military and overseas voters at least 45 days before the Nov. 2 election.

“Certainly it becomes much more problematic if we’re facing some sort of a court order after the ballot gets changed,” said Matt Benson, a spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Johnson said the Democratic Party has not heard back from prosecutors about the complaint it filed against 13 Green Party candidates. Two of the candidates were not named in the lawsuit because they did not make it onto the ballot.

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