By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal judge has ruled that the state may not enforce several rules that minor political parties claim are roadblocks to their candidates getting elected.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. refused to stay his earlier decision requiring the state to hold a random drawing to determine which candidate’s name goes first on the November general election ballot.
The ruling is part of lawsuit jointly filed against the state by the Green Party and Constitution Party, which claim that the state has imposed unconstitutional hurdles to third parties running for election in Tennessee.
“The candidate with the number one listing has a 5 percent electoral advantage because people who aren’t familiar with any of the names just pick the top one,” said Alan Woodruff, a Johnson City attorney who is representing the Constitution and Green parties.
State law currently says that a Republican will be listed first because that is the majority party in the General Assembly, Woodruff said. The law says that a candidate running as a Democrat will be listed second because it is the party in the minority in the state legislature, he said.
The state has argued in court documents that there is no evidence of voter prejudice toward candidates from minor political parties who aren’t placed first on the ballot. The state has also argued that requiring a random drawing to determine whose name appears first would ultimately result in voter confusion.
Last month Haynes found that Tennessee law is unconstitutional and makes it unreasonably difficult for members of third parties to get their names on the ballot. The judge said that third parties should not be required to get 40,000 signatures by April 5 to qualify to be on the ballot. He also said third party candidates have a right to be identified by their party, as opposed to simply being labeling as an “independent.”
The state of Tennessee is appealing Haynes’ decision and asked the judge to stay the order to hold a random drawing. The state also wanted the judge to stay his decision requiring that Green Party and Constitution Party candidates be identified by their parties.
Haynes refused. The judge said it was in the public interest to ensure that the third parties have fair and equal access to the ballot.