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State Supreme Court upholds law aimed at Libertarian candidates

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The Arizona Supreme Court on Friday upheld a law that its proponents admitted is designed to help elect Republicans by keeping Libertarians from siphoning away votes.

In a unanimous ruling, the justices acknowledged that the new law increased the number of signatures a Libertarian is required to get to run for statewide office by a factor of 25. By contrast, the 2015 statute had little effect on Republican and Democrat candidates.

But Chief Justice Scott Bales said the increased burden is legally irrelevant. He said the Republican-controlled Legislature was entitled to decide that all candidates from all parties have to show the same level of support to qualify for a place on the ballot.

Friday’s ruling comes in a case involving Libertarian Frank Tamburri. It dashes his bid to challenge Republican John McCain in November for the U.S. Senate.

But it may not be the last word on the validity of the law.

Mesnard, JD

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler

The Arizona Libertarian Party has a separate lawsuit pending in federal court challenging the same signature requirements. Oliver Hall, the attorney in that case, wants a judge to rule that the 2015 law imposes “unconstitutionally severe and unequal burdens on the Libertarians alone.”

On paper, the law treats all parties the same: They need the signatures of one-fourth of one percent of eligible voters. That’s down from one-half of one percent.

But lawmakers added a twist by redefining who are “eligible voters” who can sign the petition.

The original law included only members of that person’s party. Now the percentage is calculated based on not just party registration but also anyone registered as a political independent.

With the decrease in the percentage requirement by half, that’s no real change for Democrats or Republicans.

But the situation is different for Libertarians: While under the old law they needed just 133 signatures for a statewide candidate to qualify for the ballot; the new law raises that to 3,034. And there are similar double-digit increases in congressional and legislative races

The record shows there was a political motive behind the change.

During the debate over the 2015 measure, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, conceded as much.

“What we have is that people who have historically been third-party candidates (have) been able to get on the ballot with an incredibly small number of signatures,” he complained.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chander, who sponsored HB2608, said it was designed to stop the kind of games that can be played to siphon votes.

“My mom in CD 9 (in Tucson and southeast Arizona) was getting mail from the Democratic Party backing the Libertarian candidate,” he said. Mesnard said allowing a minor party candidate to qualify for equal ballot status with Republicans and Democrats without getting the same number of signatures “makes a mockery of the system and also opens it up for manipulation.”

He contends that’s already happened.

When the issue was first debated, Mesnard said that one or two of the 2012 congressional races did not go “in the direction I would have liked to have seen them go.” More to the point, Mesnard contended that the results would have been different had the higher signature requirement been in place and, presumably, Libertarian candidates would not have been on the ballot.

In CD 1 which runs from Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation to the edge of Tucson, Republican Jonathan Paton fell short in his bid to oust incumbent Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.

Paton garnered 113,594 votes against 122,774 for Kirkpatrick. But Libertarian Kim Allen picked up 15,227 votes — votes Mesnard contended likely would have gone to Paton.

Similarly, in the newly created CD 9 which encompasses parts of Phoenix and Tempe, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema bested Republican Vernon Parker by 10,251 votes, with Libertarian Powell Gammill tallying 16,620.

And to drive the point home to his GOP colleagues who were voting on the measure, he pointed out that the new requirements also cover legislative races. Mesnard told them that if they didn’t support the change, they could be personally affected in their next race.

“I can’t believe we wouldn’t see the benefit of this,” Mesnard told fellow Republicans.

None of the political debate was discussed by Bales in the opinion he wrote for the court. Instead he focused purely on the numerical change.

“HB2608, like any restriction on a candidate’s ballot access, imposes some burden on Tamburri’s political opportunities,” the chief justice wrote. And it might even “limit the field.”

But Bales said that a “reasonably diligent” minor party candidate could still gain access to the ballot, saying that getting signatures from one-quarter of one percent of all eligible voters — Libertarians and independents — is not an unreasonable burden. He said the Legislature has a “legitimate interest in ensuring candidates who appear on the general election ballot have some significant modicum of support.”

6 comments

  1. Jurisprudence? Justice? Fair elections?

  2. I hope Mr. Mesnard doesn’t plan on making a career in Arizona politics. The little scared-y-cat hopefully will be driven out of the State like the unprincipled coward that he is.

  3. this has all the makings of why this states politics is looking Fascist

  4. I originally supported this Federal Lawsuit as a Libertarian Candidate, but no longer do. I was able to achieve the new signature requirements to get on the Ballot, and now believe that they are fair.

    The Libertarian Party can either increase their membership, or open their Primary to Independent Voters. This would permit write-in Candidates a “second bite at the apple” to get on the ballot.

    Without a “modicum of support” from Independent Voters, no Libertarian has ANY chance to get elected, and this is why the new law is fair.

    The Libertarian Lawsuit incorrectly argues that Independent Voters won’t support them, and this is absolutely UNTRUE.

    NINETY FIVE PERCENT of my nomination petition signatures came from Independents, but none of them were able to vote for me in the CLOSED LIBERTARIAN PRIMARY.

    It will be a very different story in the General Election, where I expect to receive the majority of Independent Voter’s support.

  5. I would need more details, but tend to agree with G Kelly concerning the signatures. Not because I believe that gathering signatures is fair (it’s stupid), but because it appears to be a percentage, and the R’s and D’s have the same percentage threshold. Also, I am a died-in-the wool Libertarian, so know that I want to see Libertarian candidates in ALL races. But I am nothing if not fair. With that said, I completely disagree about opening up the primaries. First, there should be no primaries. It is without question a violation of libertarian principal to support a system that has taxpayers fund a process whereby a private political party chooses it’s candidates. But until we can overturn the primary system, open primaries are what have killed our political process. Libertarians and ONLY Libertarians should choose who the Libertarian candidates will be, then in the general election, the voters will chose which of the parties’ candidates they like best (or more likely, dislike least).

  6. With being registered Libertarian in Arizona, i personally am tired of the way the state treats non-republicans. For the primaries, it was closed, i could only vote at the state level. I was handed a blank ballot which was in a plastic bag with 4 other ballots. After a remark was made of my party affiliation, being the only person in the room other than the volunteers, i didn’t feel the comment appropriate and wanted to understand the problem. I was told they were given only 15 libertarian ballots and were almost out. If they ran out they would have to drive 45 min to get more ballots, 45 m8n back. With it being 5 pm, i’m lucky i got to vote. The only people whom could vote on everything were republican, Democrat, and independent. If you are registered lib, or green, you are automatically voting on the local level in your party regardless! You do not have a choice or a voice. Everything is write in for state level, if you mess up the ballot, some one else may not get to vote. There were 2 example ballots that could be used. The booklet showed the candidates of only republican (1st pages) democrat (following pages) both had all candidates for these parties. The following lib, green, independent, were blank. They refused to even give you the names of those parties.i was explained that voting was going to have differences now. The person whom had made the comment earlier, encouraged me to change my registered party to independent “so i would be able to vote at local and state levels. It is still a blank ballot, there’s just more to fill in”. To me this is wrong. I do live in a very large rural area. This coming from a volunteer in this area wasn’t too surprising. I do not plan on changing my party.

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