AUGUSTA, Maine – A judge last week ordered Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to put Libertarians back into their party after they were unconstitutionally removed and allow the party to nominate candidates for the 2022 elections.
The Maine Libertarian Party has been in protracted lawsuits against the state in an attempt to reform its party membership enrollment laws, which members say disenfranchises their small party. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker called the process of un-enrolling members when the party’s numbers fall beneath a certain threshold unconstitutional last fall.
Walker’s Friday decision is another victory for Maine Libertarians, who represented only a small share of voters after they briefly gained official recognition here in 2016. The ruling ensures that those members will have a chance to vote under the party’s banner in the upcoming elections. The ruling came just as nominating petitions became available for Maine’s June primaries.
Bellows, a Democrat who took office last year and inherited the lawsuit that came under Matt Dunlap, her predecessor, must put former Libertarians back in their old party unless they have already chosen another party or request to not be re-added. She is required to tell members their un-enrollment was unlawful within the next month and give them 45 days to indicate whether they wish to rejoin the party. People can also join the party at their municipal office.
While the lawsuit is not over, the ruling will allow Libertarians to participate in the elections under their own party by essentially voiding a state law that requires new parties to enroll at least 5,000 members the year before a general election and to have twice that number by the next election to hold a convention.
“While the realization of a freer and fairer electoral system may impose some administrative burdens on the government, those burdens do not outweigh the significant burden that certain provisions of Maine’s election law have imposed on political expression, political association, and equal protection,” Walker wrote.
Walker denied the Libertarians’ requests to credit them with the 6,168 members they had when they lost recognition in late 2018, saying the better figure would be current enrollees and those who wish to rejoin. Bellows’ office declined comment, with a spokesperson saying she was reviewing the decision.
The federal judge also denied a request to require the party be allowed to participate in the 2024 election cycle regardless of size, saying the state should be able to rework ballot access laws by then and that Libertarians should have plenty of time to meet the new requirements.