Tennessee places “an unconstitutional burden” on minor political parties seeking places on the ballot, the Green and Constitution Parties of Tennessee claim in Federal Court, reports Courthouse News.
Tennessee’s Libertarian Party filed a similar lawsuit last week, claiming that Tennessee’s deadlines for petition signature collection for special general elections are unconstitutional.
In the law complaint, the Green and Constitution Parties claim the state’s requirements for petition signatures and number of votes for minor parties are unconstitutional. They also claim that the requirement to file an affidavit promising not to support the overthrow of the government is unconstitutional.
The parties sued Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Elections Coordinator Mark Goins.
Tennessee Code Annotated 2-1-104 requires minor parties to obtain the signatures of 2.5 percent of the total number of votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the most recent election of governor, to be recognized and appear on the ballot.
But a federal judge ruled in Green Party of Tenn. et al. vs. Hargett et al. that Section 2-1-104 was “unconstitutional and granted plaintiffs status as ‘recognized minor parties’ for the purposes of the 2012 general election,” according to the complaint.
Now the parties ask that the court affirm its “prior determination” that 2-1-104 is unconstitutional.
By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A federal appeals court on Friday ordered a lower court to reconsider whether Tennessee law makes it too difficult for third parties to get on the ballot.
In February, U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. struck down state rules requiring third-party candidates for high-level offices to be selected through a primary. He also struck down a requirement that the parties and candidates collect about 40,000 signatures and turn them in seven months before the election.
After that decision, the General Assembly changed the law to make it easier on third parties.
Under the new rules, minor political parties can still use the primary process. They also have the option of selecting nominees in accordance with their own internal rules.
If they chose to do the latter, the parties still have to collect signatures, but they don’t have to turn them in until 90 days before the election. The individual candidates don’t have to collect signatures.
The three-judge panel for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling from Cincinnati, sent the case back to the lower court to re-evaluate the rules in light of the recent changes. The court also overturned the lower court’s determination that a prohibition on the words “independent” and “nonpartisan” in party names was unconstitutional.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Election officials have been making Shelby County early voters who show only a Memphis library card as their photo identification cast a provisional ballot, and an attorney for the city on Monday demanded the practice stop.
Attorney George Barrett wrote in a cease and desist letter to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper that state election officials are in “defiance” of a court order and the city of Memphis will go to court if the provisional ballot policy doesn’t stop.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled last week that the voter ID law is constitutional but also said the Memphis library card qualifies as a government-issued photo ID. In a separate order it directed the state to tell election officials in Shelby County to accept the library card ID.
State officials appealed to the state Supreme Court on Friday, arguing that the Memphis library ID shouldn’t be allowed because it wasn’t issued by state government.
Robert Meyers, chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission, said Monday that he’s working to find out how many voters have been given provisional ballots after showing their Memphis library card during early voting ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Shelby County voters who show only a library ID are being given provisional ballots on orders from the state coordinator of elections office, Meyers said.
“The state’s actions have already led to confusion among Memphis early voters, many of whom, including a city judge, have already attempted to vote with their photo library cards, only to be refused by poll workers,” Barrett’s letter said.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett contended last week that state attorneys had advised him that filing the appeal petition has stayed the appellate court order, which led to the provisional ballot procedures in Memphis.
Voters who cast provisional ballots have up to two business days after the election to return to their local election offices with proper identification, in order to have their votes counted.
As of Monday, the county had issued only a handful of provisional ballots, Meyers said. When told that their library IDs could only get them a provisional ballot, some voters showed their driver’s license and received a regular ballot, Meyers said.
“My sense is that there is a very low incidence” of voters getting provisional ballots after showing their library IDs, Meyers said.
Legal action against the photo ID law was initiated when the City of Memphis and two voters who lacked photo ID and cast provisional ballots during the August primary sued in both federal and state court to stop the law that took effect this year.
The appeals court cited Tennessee case law in finding that the city of Memphis is a branch of the state, so the library card, which was redesigned this year to include a photo, is enough to prove identity.
In their Supreme Court appeal, lawyers for Hargett and state elections coordinator Mark Goins said the high court needs to determine whether the voter ID law that took effect this year allows for local government ID.
Lawyers for the city argued in their response that the appeals court correctly decided that the library IDs meet the definition of “evidence of identification” in state law.
The Supreme Court set an expedited schedule for filings in the appeal but hasn’t yet said if it will hear the case.
While there may be no doubt about the outcome of the presidential election in Tennessee, the size of Mitt Romney’s Volunteer State victory is a matter of some speculation and dispute. There seems some general agreement, however, on the ramifications of the margin of Mitt on down-the-ballot races.
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney says that, given increasing voter unhappiness with President Barack Obama, there’s a good chance that Romney will better the Tennessee performance of George W. Bush in 2004 or John McCain in 2008. Bush carried Tennessee by 14 percentage points, McCain by 15.
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester says, given voter unhappiness with Romney and increasing acceptance of Obama, there’s not any such chance.
But both party chairs agreed — albeit with some difference in details and considerable contrast in rhetorical remarks while relating them in recent interviews — that a presidential candidate with a big, double-digit margin has coattails.
News release from Tennessee Democratic party:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester demanded state election officials remove state House candidate Charles Williamson from the ballot in light of evidence showing that Williamson submitted fraudulent information on his official nominating petition.
“For the past year, the Republicans have claimed they ‘want to protect the ballot box from voter fraud.’ They now have a chance to do the right thing and demand that Williamson be removed from the ballot based on the extensive evidence showing that he put a false address on his nominating petition, apparently thinking that living in the district he seeks to represent would help him politically,” Forrester said. “Adding insult to injury, Mr. Williamson has voted in the precinct where he apparently does not live.”
The evidence that Williamson does not in fact live in the address is extensively documented:
State election officials plan to look at the histories of voters who participated in the Republican primary in Davidson County this month to help determine if voters were routinely given the GOP ballot by default, reports The Tennessean. Mark Goins, the state’s elections coordinator, said Tuesday that he wants to figure out if Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall’s experience was isolated or common. Advocacy group Tennessee Citizen Action announced publicly Monday what Goins had known for 11 days: that Hall, an elected Democrat, had voted in the Republican primary after poll officials failed to give him a choice.
Tennessee Citizen Action said Hall and others were victims of Davidson County’s new electronic poll books defaulting to the Republican primary if voters didn’t express a preference for one primary or the other on Aug. 2.
While Goins said “default” is actually the wrong term, he acknowledged that the Republican primary was listed first in the poll books, which state law required because the GOP is currently in power in the General Assembly. He said the Republican primary also was highlighted, and poll officials either failed to ask voters if they wanted to vote in a primary or, if they did ask, they failed to highlight the Democratic primary once voters expressed that preference. As a result, those voters received a Republican ballot.
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson came to Nashville to ensure he made the state’s ballot as an independent presidential candidate in November, including meeting one requirement that candidates sign every nominating petition his campaign submitted.
More from the Tennessean report: Later in the day, his campaign was also getting additional petitioners to nominate him after more than half of the people who tried to nominate the former New Mexico governor were considered invalid by state election officials.
Jim Tomasik, the state director for Johnson’s campaign, said he picked up Johnson himself from the airport Wednesday morning so he could meet an obscure part of state code and sign each petition to qualify for the November election.
The afternoon before, he was told the petitions the campaign had filed were 74 signatures short of qualifying.
According to state election rules, independent Presidential candidates must have 275 signatures from registered Tennessee voters to be named on the ballot. More than half of the 415 signatures the Johnson campaign turned in earlier this month were apparently not from eligible voters.
“Over 50 percent to be rejected, that’s an awfully high margin,” Tomasik said. He quickly said it was the campaign’s responsibility to step up and get Johnson, a fiscal conservative and social liberal, on the state’s ballot.
A 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Thursday assures that Green Party candidates will have a place on Tennessee’s November general election ballot in several races – including Martin Pleasant of Knoxville as the party’s U.S. Senate nominee.
“That’s wonderful,” said Pleasant, 43, who said he now plans to take some time off his job with the Knox County Engineering and Public Works Department for campaigning.
State Election Coordinator Mark Goins said the court ruling came in requests for an expedited ruling on two issues in a lawsuit brought by the Green and Constitution parties challenging the state’s ballot access.
Currently, Democrats and Republicans are listed by party affiliation but others are listed as independents unless they go through various steps that a U.S. District Court judge in Nashville ruled in February are too burdensome. The state attorney general’s office appealed that ruling.
In Thursday’s decision, the court declared Green and Constitution party candidates must be on the ballot and listed by party name, Goins said. But the court ruled for the state in another issue up for “expedited” decision – letting stand a present law requiring the “majority party,” now Republicans, be listed first on the ballot, followed by the “minority party,” the Democrats, with others following lower on the ballot.
Tennessee Green Party candidates for public office will have to wait more than three weeks before their names will appear on the state’s elections website, says The Tennessean. State officials do not plan to publish the official list of candidates for the November election until Aug. 30, state elections director Mark Goins said Tuesday.
That’s when Goins’ office is required by state law to finalize and announce results from Tennessee’s recent primary elections, he said.
“Their names will be there unless the court tells us otherwise,” Goins said.
A federal judge earlier this year ruled that members of third parties have a right to appear on the ballot, identified by their party, as opposed to being included in the listing of independent candidates.
The state has appealed that decision, and a federal appeals court has yet to rule on the issue.
“There’s a decent chance that we’ll know by Aug. 30,” Goins said.
If not, the state plans to include a reference to the pending appeal, noting that Green Party candidates could be removed from the ballot if the original ruling is overturned.
In recent days, candidates from the Green Party have been raising concerns that state officials were dragging their feet on updating the lists of candidates on the elections website.
As of Tuesday, only Republican, Democratic and independent candidates were named.
“This has really hurt our candidates,” said John Miglietta, who is running as a Green Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 5th District. Candidates from the party have been missing out on candidate forums and being mentioned in lists of individuals who will be on the ballot this fall, he said.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee election officials called Friday for closer scrutiny of a contest in the state’s largest county after reports that more than 5 percent of voters have gotten the wrong ballot during early voting.
Tennessee Election Coordinator Mark Goins said he has asked the state comptroller’s office to do a performance audit of the vote in Shelby County. Goins described the situation as “a mess,” and a letter from Goins and Secretary of State Tre Hargett noted that the current issues are part of a string of troubling election problems dating back years.
The state stepped in on the next to last day of early voting after voting database expert Joe Weinberg estimated more than 2,300 voters cast early choices on the wrong ballot. The mistakes are largely the result of redistricting and affect state legislative races.
Weinberg told The Commercial Appeal that he has been helping identify the problems for the Shelby County Election Commission, which reports 445,747 registered voters in the county.
Goins said he wants to get the matter corrected by next Thursday’s primary and expects to have an “error free” general election in November.
Voters who already cast incorrect early ballots will not be allowed to vote again, and officials are urging voters who think their ballot is wrong to tell a poll worker before casting their ballots.
Richard Holden, the county’s Administrator of Elections, told The Associated Press on Friday that he could not confirm Weinberg’s numbers, and he did not provide his own estimate as to how many ballots have been incorrect. Holden said the commission was working to make sure that no more mistakes were made.
“I haven’t been looking in the rear view mirror,” Holden said. “I have been looking through the windshield.”
In their letter to the comptroller requesting the audit, Hargett and Goins said election problems in Shelby County have stretched back about a decade. In 2010, an election official loaded the wrong information into an electronic toll book, indicating that thousands of voters had cast ballots when they hadn’t.
Candidates in 2006 sued the county election commission, alleging that irregularities affected the outcome of a county general election. In 2005, a special election to fill a vacant seat was voided because ballots were cast by ineligible felons and dead people.
“While each example is in and of itself unacceptable, together they indicate a troubling pattern of errors that cannot go unnoticed,” the letter said. “These errors have eroded public confidence in the Shelby County Election Commission Administration to the point where every action taken by them is considered suspect.”
Many of the improper ballots are in uncontested races, but more than 300 of them have showed up in the District 93 contest involving current state representatives Mike Kernell and G.A. Hardaway.
Both candidates say they continue to hear from voters about problems.
“We’ve got one goofy scenario after another and there is just no excuse,” Hardaway told the newspaper.
Through Wednesday, 41,595 votes had been cast.
Six suburban cities have referendums on whether to leave the county school system and create their own schools. Those elections are being contested in court as a violation of the state constitution and the votes could be thrown out later.