Appeals court : TN ballot access law violates minor party constitutional rights

The federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Tennessee’s requirements for “minor” parties getting their names on the ballot violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, reports the Tennessean. The decision upholds a lower court ruling.

“Tennessee’s ballot-retention statute clearly imposes a heavier burden on minor parties than major parties by giving minor parties less time to obtain the same level of electoral success as established parties,” wrote Chief Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. in the court’s decision.

The decision means Tennessee’s requirements for minor parties to get their candidates on a ballot can’t be enforced. The Green Party of Tennessee and Constitution Party of Tennessee brought the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law in 2013; Green Party Co-Chair Kate Culver said the decision is a huge victory for minor parties in Tennessee and across the country.

“This is huge for the potential for third parties to have a voice in the political arena,” Culver said Thursday morning.

“We know right now people are unhappy and disgruntled with the two major parties. … There needs to be some way to get those voices heard.”

The parties sued Secretary of State Tre Hargett. Through a spokesman, Hargett said his office is reviewing the court’s decision to determine what action the state might take next.

…Tennessee law says a minor party must be recognized as a minor party to get a candidate on a ballot. That recognition requires a petition with signatures totaling at least 2.5 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election; that’d be at least 33,844 signatures based on the 2014 gubernatorial election.

After meeting that petition requirement, though, one of the party’s candidates for statewide office would have to receive at least 5 percent of the votes cast in the governor’s election to remain on the ballot for the next election. If none of the party’s candidates met that threshold, they’d have to go out and collect signatures again.

Major parties are allowed to meet that 5 percent mark at any point over the course of four years to remain on the ballot, according to Tennessee law.

“Only Tennessee’s access-retention system forces minor political parties to attain the same vote percentage as major political parties in less time,” states the court’s opinion, with emphasis added to “same” and “less” by the court.

Note: A copy of the opinion is HERE.