Libertarians sue over election laws

2010-07-19T20:45:00Z 2010-07-30T11:51:50Z Libertarians sue over election lawsBy REBECCA BEITSCH Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

The North Dakota Libertarian Party is suing Secretary of State Al Jaeger over election laws it says unfairly target third parties.


Party Chairman Richard Ames and two other Libertarian candidates for the Legislature were barred from advancing to the general election because they didn’t get the required number of votes in the state primary.


The number varies slightly  by district. In Ames’ case, as in most cases, he would have needed about 130 votes to move on to the general election.


Oliver Hall, the attorney for the party and the head of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Competitive Democracy, said North Dakota is the only state in the U.S. where candidates face such a requirement  after they already  got 7,000 signatures to compete in the primary.


“We’re asking the court to strike down the law as unconstitutional,” said Hall.


His argument is based on the First Amendment’s guarantee to free speech and assembly and 14th Amendment’s guarantee  of due process and equal protection of the law.


Hall said that while the current system may be designed for parties to be able to demonstrate wide-ranging support, Libertarians and other parties have already done so by gathering the 7,000 signatures to get on the ballot.


Two of the party’s statewide candidates made it on the ballot, but none of the three candidates for legislative office got the required number of votes to move on to the general election. The lawsuit is on their behalf only.


Hall said the difference between the legislative candidates and the statewide candidates is the size of the pool from which they have to draw. Statewide candidates must get 300 votes to advance to the primary, yet they draw from a pool of all voters in the election. While legislative candidates must get nearly half the number of votes, they can only get them from 1/47 of the voting population. North Dakota has been divided into 47 legislative districts.


States are able to protect the orderliness of the ballot by requiring parties to get 7,000 signatures Hall said. But the disparity  between the votes statewide and legislative candidates have to get and the pools they can to draw those votes from shows the regulation is “not narrowly tailored enough to serve any legitimate state purpose.”


Hall described narrowly tailored as being the least intrusive  manner for a state to advance its interest.


Jaeger said it’s not his job to determine whether the laws he enforces are constitutional.


“We follow the law, and if they disagree with the law, they have the right to pursue satisfaction for whatever they feel is a problem,” he said.


The lawsuit will need to come to a speedy resolution to have an impact on this election cycle. Ballots can be printed as early as Sept. 3.


Ames, who is hopeful everything will be settled before that date, said regardless, the lawsuit will make a difference “for all other parties that can be taken out of the debate, regardless of their platform.”


Hall said Minnesota once had a similar law requiring a particular candidate vote total, but its Supreme Court struck it down, leaving North Dakota as the only remaining state with such a law.


While all other states have had a third-party state legislative candidate appear on the ballot sometime this decade, North Dakota has not had such a candidate since 1976, according to information compiled by Ballot Access News.


Hall, who is admitted in both the D.C. and Massachusetts bar, must get a visiting attorney status to argue the case in North Dakota. That paperwork is still pending.


(Reach reporter Rebecca Beitsch at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(2) Comments

  1. delbertmoore
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    delbertmoore - July 20, 2010 12:22 pm
    ND is one of the easiest states to get on the ballot as an independent. I do think that if your party gets 7,000 signatures and enough votes to keep recognition that your endorsed candidates should be on the fall ballot. This will not clutter up the ballot which is a problem if access is too easy. (More than forty years ago when I was first an Inspector of election in our precinct, we hated long ballots with a lot of candidates getting very few votes because we were counting paper ballots by hand in a building with a single light fixture, and, in Nov. with a smoking fuel oil heater and no bathrooms. Now that we have plumbing, heating, adequate lighting, and a kitchen in the polling place; the ballots are machine counted. Of course the polling place is now a 42 mile round trip for me; and up to 80 miles for some. Delbert Moore
  2. Velvet Jones
    Report Abuse
    Velvet Jones - July 20, 2010 8:21 am
    Good, I hope they win. American's love to brag about democracy, yet we do everything we can to stifle it at home. In most states it is nearly impossible to get on the ballot as a third party, and when you do it is even more difficult to get votes. The sheep have been too well trained to pull that Democrat or Republican lever.
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