AUGUSTA, Maine — The creation story of the Libertarian Party in Maine, which has had more twists and turns than a mystery novel, is now moving into the hands of the Legislature, which will consider a bill this year that would grant permanent party status.
Let’s catch up on the background. Through a nonprofit, Libertarians launched a drive in early 2015 to collect 5,000 registrants, the first step in becoming a party. They submitted 6,482 names but Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap rejected nearly 2,000 of them in December 2015 because they could not be verified as registered Maine voters, so all were unenrolled from the party by the state and became independents.
The decision was upheld in U.S. District Court in April 2015 but the Libertarians appealed and the ruling was reversed by the same court a month later, a major victory for the Libertarians. But their fight was far from over.
To achieve permanent party status, they needed at least 10,000 registered Libertarians to vote in November 2016, but they fell far short, with Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski saying Wednesday that there are 5,616 enrolled Libertarians.
Now, the party and its attorney have brokered a deal that could lead to permanent party status. Libertarian Chairman Chris Lyons said the deal, which involves the presentation of LD 295 to the Legislature, could keep the issue from going back to court for more arguments about how Maine’s system for creating a new party is so hard it’s unconstitutional. That was the crux of the party’s legal arguments the first time around.
The bill was referred to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday and hasn’t been scheduled for a public hearing. There is also a second bill, which has not yet been drafted, coming from the Dunlap’s office to make broader changes to the qualification process.
“We’re going to continue to be an official party,” Lyons said on Wednesday. “If either of those bills get hacked up or not accepted, basically we’re going right back to court.”
There’s some irony here. LD 295 basically lets the Libertarians fall back on a previous law that grants party status because their 2016 presidential candidate — in this case Gary Johnson — received more than 5 percent of the vote in Maine. Because the Libertarians were in the qualifying process, they faced the more rigorous 10,000-vote threshold.
Why does it matter?
Having a fourth political party in Maine could mean a great deal if it gains any traction. Even one or two Libertarians in a closely divided Legislature could change the political dynamic in Maine, which raises the question: Will Republicans and Democrats vote for this?