Federal judge rejects Libertarian Party’s deadline challenge

Posted Sept. 18, 2009, at 2:08 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine – federal judge on Wednesday rejected the Libertarian Party’s claim that the law requiring that signature petitions seeking to place its candidates’ names on ballots be submitted to municipal clerks one week before they are due in the Secretary of State’s Office is unconstitutional.

“The seven-day window allotted by Maine is a reasonable amount of time to complete this important regulatory objective,” U.S. District Judge John Woodcock concluded in his 14-page opinion.

A year ago, the party sued Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap in an effort to get the names of its candidates for president and vice president on the Nov. 4, 2008, ballot. The lawsuit claimed that Dunlap improperly told municipal clerks not to certify signatures on petitions received after Aug. 8, 2008.

Although the Libertarian Party did not press the issue in federal court before last year’s presidential election, its attorneys persuaded Woodcock to consider arguments in the case because there was significant public interest in the issue and because the question could arise in later elections.

State law requires that petitions for candidates and citizen-initiated referenda be submitted to municipal clerks a week to 10 days before they must be submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office to give clerks time to validate signatures. Last year, the deadline for getting the petitions to Dunlap’s office was Aug. 15.

Maine also treats the candidates of “qualified” parties — such as the Democratic, Republican and Green parties — differently from the way it treats “nonparty” candidates. The Libertarian Party is not a qualified party in Maine.

In order for a party to be “qualified,” its candidate for president or governor must have received at least 5 percent of the total votes cast in the state for president or governor in either of the two preceding general elections. Qualified political parties aren’t required to certify their presidential and vice presidential candidates to the secretary of state by a certain date.

In its lawsuit, the Libertarian Party claimed that the deadline was an undue burden and amounted to a violation of its constitutional rights to political association, to an effective vote, to due process, to equal protection and to create and develop a new political party.

Woodcock ruled that the requirement was not an undue burden because supporters of nonparty presidential candidates have from Jan. 1 until 90 days before an election, which usually falls in late July or early August, to gather the required 4,000 signatures.

The judge also found that the deadline “barely allows the state enough time for challenges to nominated candidates and for the printing and provision of absentee ballots so that absentee voters can vote by Election Day.”

Efforts to reach attorneys for the Libertarian Party and officials in the Secretary of State’s Office were unsuccessful Thursday.

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

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