New Law on Ballot Access for Third Parties Brings Lawsuit

Two minor parties are suing again over access to election ballots, saying Republican and Democratic lawmakers have resisted changes despite a judge’s ruling that the state’s rules to get on the ballot were unconstitutional, according to Chas Sisk.
The Green Party of Tennessee and the Constitution Party of Tennessee have filed a suit in federal court arguing that Tennessee’s election laws continue to present an insurmountable hurdle to third-party candidates who want to see their party affiliation on the ballot. The Libertarian Party of Tennessee is weighing whether to join in the lawsuit.
The suit comes less than a year after a federal judge threw out Tennessee’s rules for appearing on the ballot, saying they violate Tennesseans’ First Amendment rights.
“Basically, they didn’t” address the ruling, said Martin Holsinger, co-chairman of the Green Party. “It’s sort of like they slapped us in the face.”
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court, argues that legislation passed in response to last year’s ruling does little to address the court’s fundamental concerns.
…For nearly five decades, Tennessee required minor parties to collect signatures from 2.5 percent of the state’s voters, about 50,000 people, saying they are members of their party to get listed next to their candidates’ names on ballots. These signatures had to be filed with the secretary of state’s office at least 120 days before an election.
Candidates from parties that do not meet the requirements have appeared on the ballot as independents.
But Democrats and Republicans have not been required to file such petitions. The law exempted any party that got at least 5 percent of the vote in the most recent governor’s race.

…U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr. said in a decision released last September that the requirements violated the Constitution and ordered state lawmakers to pass a new ballot-access law.
The legislature did so in May, passing a bill with broad support from Democrats and Republicans. The law removed the requirement that signers declare themselves to be party members, and it gave parties about 15 more days to gather signatures.
But lawmakers left the basic signature requirement in place.

Note: The bill was HB794, sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris; passing the Senate 24-9 and the House 92-0. (Bill info page HERE.) In the Senate, an amendment was offered by Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle to reduce the signature requirement to a flat 10,000 rather than 2.5 percent of those voting in the most recent gubernatorial election. It was killed (tabled) on a 19-14 vote with the no votes coming from Democrats and Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.

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