Legal Challenge Changes Arkansas Ballot Access Law
Greens Assert Their Rights
by Mark Swaney, Green Party of Arkansas

There was no “legitimate state purpose” to having different standards for independent compared to partisan candidates.

One of the greatest challenges the Green Party faces across the United States are ballot access laws written by Democrats and Republicans aimed at excluding alternative voices so they are not heard.

In Arkansas this year, those laws are in flux as a direct result of a Green Party challenge. Formerly, in order to qualify for the ballot, the state of Arkansas required new political parties to collect signatures from a number of valid registered voters equal to 3 percent of the vote in the previous governor’s race. For the 2006 election, that number was 24,171 signatures.

However on June 27, 2006 the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project filed a suit, Green Party of Arkansas v Daniels, in Federal Court against this law. The ACLU argued that since Arkansas had already deemed that 10,000 signatures was enough of a “modicum of support” for an independent candidate not affiliated with a party to qualify for the ballot, the state could not require more from a candidate that was from a political party.

Previously on May 30, 2006 the Green Party of Arkansas had submitted more than 18,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office to qualify for party status, but the state refused to check them. With presumably at least 10,000 of them valid, the ACLU sought an injunction against the Arkansas signature law with the goal of obtaining ballot status for Green gubernatorial candidate Jim Lendall.

U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. agreed and granted the injunction, arguing there was no “legitimate state purpose” to having different standards for independent compared to partisan candidates.

In the case of ballot access laws, which have only existed for a relatively short time in America, the only “legitimate state purpose” to make any restriction whatsoever on the number of persons or parties allowed to be printed on the ballot is to prevent “voter confusion” by demonstrating a party or candidate has a “modicum of support.” The federal courts have left it up to state legislatures to decide what a “modicum of support” should be in that state. As Arkansas had previously determined that a modicum of support for an independent candidate was 10,000 signatures, they are not free to define it differently for a political party candidate.

In what appears to be a partisan response however, the overwhelmingly Democratic-controlled Arkansas state legislature (75 Democrats, 25 Republicans), supported by the Democratic secretary of state, passed a new ballot access law in March of this year, HB2353, cutting the time to gather the 10,000 signatures from the 150 days allowed under the 3 percent signature law, to only 60 days. The bill’s proponents claimed this was because the independent candidates were only allowed 60 days to gather their 10,000 signatures, despite the fact only one independent candidate had ever qualified for the ballot under this law. The bill was approved 66-23 and removes the existing law’s provision that allows a party 15 days to gather additional signatures if petitions are rejected by the secretary of state.

Even though Arkansas has had fewer minor party and independent candidates on the ballot for governor and U.S. senator than any other state, during 1980-2004 the legislature declined to pass a compromise bill, advocated by the ACLU and the Green Party of Arkansas. This compromise bill would have allowed 120 days to both political party and independent candidates.

According to 2006 Arkansas Green attorney general candidate Rebekah Kennedy “the clear motive for this new ballot access law was to continue to make it difficult to put new political party candidates on the ballot. As a result, there is ample reason to believe the new law is unconstitutional because of the legislature’s clear intent to protect a political monopoly of the one political party — the Demopublicans!” Lendall, who testified against the bill agreed, “this would not benefit voters, particularly those who feel disenfranchised under the status quo.”

According to Kennedy, the Green Party of Arkansas believes it can succeed in its ballot access efforts despite this new law, and intends to place several candidates on the 2008 general election ballot, including Kennedy for U.S. Senate and several others for U.S. House. At the same time, the party is keeping its options open for a challenge to the new law in court.