State Supreme Court to hear ballot access case

The North Carolina Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Libertarian Party et al vs. The State of North Carolina, et al Thursday, September 9 at 9:30 a.m. This is the party’s challenge to the constitutionality of North Carolina’s ballot access laws.

The lawsuit filed in September 2005 claims North Carolina’s ballot access restrictions violate the state constitution, which guarantees that all elections shall be free and that with very few restrictions every voter shall be eligible for election by the people to office.

The North Carolina Green Party joined the case as an intervenor in April 2006.

In May 2006, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled in favor of the State. The Libertarians and Greens appealed, but the appeal was denied in October 2009 in a 2-1 split decision by the N.C. Appeals Court. Since Justice Ann Maria Calabria dissented, the parties could appeal the case to the state’s highest tribunal.

A coalition of civil rights and public policy advocacy groups from across the political spectrum submitted a joint amici curiae brief in support of that appeal in February. They are the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Democracy North Carolina, FairVote Action, the League of Women Voters-NC, Common Cause, North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections, the John Locke Foundation, the N.C State Conference of Branches of the NAACP and the N.C Center for Voter Education.

The North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law submitted a separate amicus brief. The brief was written by Jason Kay, a senior staff attorney with the institute. He called the appeals court decision a watershed decision for constitutional law with implications far beyond North Carolina.

Richard Winger, the foremost national expert on ballot access, testified that North Carolina’s two percent threshold for petition signatures to get on the ballot was a “a terrible burden, in effect, it’s a gigantic filing fee…” for third parties. He said that only four times in U.S. history has a new or previously unqualified political party met a petition requirement as high as North Carolina’s 2008 requirement of 69,734 signatures.

The lower courts have tended to treat the case as being solely about the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot,” he said in his newsletter Ballot Access News. “However, the case also challenges the state’s refusal to let a party qualify in just one district or county, if it is unable to qualify statewide,” he said. “It challenges the state’s refusal to let voters register into unqualified parties.”

Winger said that the suit also challenges the law that denies ballot-qualified parties to be listed on the the state income tax checkoff form, unless they have registration of at least one percent. “That provision has probably been responsible for the Libertarian Party losing $35,000 in donations that otherwise would have gone to the party,” he said.