Federal Judge Kristine G. Baker has issued an injunction overturning requirements imposed on “new political parties” by Act 164 of the Arkansas General Assembly, adopted and signed into law in February.
Act 164 increased the requirements for third parties to place their candidates on the ballot from 10,000 petition signatures to 3% of the vote in the last Gubernatorial election, presently 26,746 signatures. The Libertarian Party had argued that raising the bar for ballot access was unwarranted and unnecessary. Libertarians also complained about the limited 90-day window required for collecting petition signatures, as well as the fact that the deadline for turning in petitions had been moved forward to September 2019.
Baker’s ruling agreed.
“There is no record evidence before the court that explains the state’s interest – let alone a compelling one – in requiring new political parties to meet the three percent requirement, file a petition more than a year in advance of the general election, and collect signatures in a 90-day window.”
Michael Pakko, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Arkansas, said Act 164 was “nothing more than an effort to restrict competition in the political process by making it more difficult, if not impossible, for the Libertarian Party to continue to challenge the status quo duopoly. The judge’s ruling gives us an opportunity to put Libertarian candidates before the voters in 2020, and I’m confident that a final ruling will help us level the playing field for all alternative political parties in the future.”
The preliminary injunction stops Secretary of State John Thurston from enforcing Arkansas statutes that impose the three percent requirement, and from restricting ballot access to the Arkansas Libertarians as a new political party if it meets a 10,000-signature requirement.
The ruling did not extend the time period for collecting petition signatures, nor did it change the contested deadline.
“The important thing is that our petitions will be counted and Libertarians will most assuredly be on the Arkansas ballot in 2020, Pakko said.
In late June, the state Libertarian Party turned in a total of 18,667 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. Election officials received the petitions but had not yet accepted them for validation, awaiting clarification from the court as to the standard to use for assessing “sufficiency.”
A full hearing of the case, Libertarian Party of Arkansas et al v. Thurston, (4:19-cv-00214) is scheduled for trial before Judge Baker May 11, 2020.