ENC Regional News
3:06 am
Wed June 18, 2008

N-C Libertarian Party appeals ballot access decision

N-C Libertarian Party appeals ballot access

New Bern, NC – INTRO - The Libertarian Party of North Carolina announced last week it will appeal a Superior Court ruling denying their claims that state ballot access rules are unconstitutional. George Olsen has more.

The ruling by Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood came at the end of May, with about two weeks passing before the state Libertarian Party announced it would appeal the ruling the delay in the decision coming in part from disbelief. Brian Irving is the communications director for the state party.

03:54 We were kind of shocked and stunned by his decision because he did pay a lot of attention and asked some very good questions so we thought we were going to get something but we got completely shut out, so it took us awhile to recover from that shot, but he basically went right down the line with what the state had argued.

The state argued the people through their legislators have the right to place restrictions on ballot access as long as those restrictions aren't unconstitutional. The Libertarian and Green Parties argued they were. Currently third parties must hold petition drives getting the signatures of 2% of the total votes in the prior gubernatorial or presidential election about 70,000 signatures to get their candidates on the statewide ballot, then must receive 2% of the count in the gubernatorial or presidential election to stay on the ballot for the next cycle. But getting those signatures is an expensive proposition Irving says the Party spent $150,000 on their petition drive to get on this year's ballot and then if the top of their ticket doesn't meet the threshold, they start all over again, aiming at a moving target.

08:27 It's gone from 60,000 to 70,000 during this election cycle and probably by 2012 it'll be 80,000, so they're basically raising the threshold every four years and they're basically pricing any third party out of the market.

So the Party sued to try and get the access rules changed. Mike Munger, a Duke University political science professor and the party's Gubernatorial candidate, says the typical state threshold is about a quarter of North Carolina's requirement. The state argued in part that there's a voter interest in limiting choices to avoid ballot confusion, but Brian Irving says the state didn't present evidence to support that allegation.

03:54 The problem with the so-called long ballot that there may be more than two parties on the ballot, the problem is caused by the state itself in that it elects 10 members of the Council of State and it elects judges, that's what causes the ballot to be so long. In fact, the head of the Board of Elections Gary Bartlett said in his affidavit that's why the ballot is so long, because of the number of offices up for election, not the number of parties.

Brian Irving adds that in 1980, when the petition drive threshold was at its lowest 5000 signatures there were only four parties on the statewide ballot. The Libertarian Party is asking the Court of Appeals to throw out the Superior Court ruling as well as consider an issue the Libertarians rose which they say Judge Hobgood did not address in his ruling.

14:40 The issue of once we get decertified the Board of Elections tells all registered Libertarians they have to register either in another party, one of the two recognized government sponsored parties, or be registered as unaffiliated, and we're trying to fight that because essentially what they're making the choice for many voters.

The Libertarian Party would like to see the General Assembly make meaningful reforms, but they are not aware of any ballot access reforms being considered this session by the Legislature. So they await their turn before the Court of Appeals, though, to some degree, while they were hopeful coming out of Superior Court, they don't sound as hopeful going before the Court of Appeals.

17:24 We expect this will go all the way to the state Supreme Court. Again, our experts tells us that these kind of matters, in all the states where ballot access has been challenged it's the highest court in that state that normally makes the final decision, so we expect this to be a year-and-a-half, two year process.

The good news for the cash-strapped party the law firm that handled their case before the Superior Court apparently has a belief in the validity of the party's claims and has said it will handle appeals pro bono with one proviso they have to pay off the legal bills run up in their Superior Court arguments. I'm George Olsen.