Libertarians Lose Ballot-Access Battle

A federal judge has ruled that Tennessee’s Libertarian Party candidate for governor will have to appear on the ballot as an “Independent.”

Despite an earlier ruling this year that the state’s Constitution Party and Green Party candidates could appear on the the November ballot, U.S. District Judge William Haynes last week filed an order denying a temporary injunction sought by the Libertarian Party to allow their candidate, Daniel Lewis, to be listed on the ballot with his party

State law requires parties submit a petition with signatures equal to 2.5 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election — or 40,042 — in order to appear on the ballot. Individual candidates need only collect 25 signatures for their name to appear on the ballot, but they will be listed as independent if their party has not qualified.

The Libertarian Party had filed a petition in August seeking to be added to the ballot on similar grounds as the other two parties — that the signature requirement is onerous, and violates the party’s member’s freedom of speech and equal protection.

Haynes had originally ruled in March in the case of the Green Party of Tennessee v. Hargett that because the state’s ballot access requirement had been ruled unconstitutional in the past and had not been significantly changed yet, the parties should still appear on the ballot. Haynes’ ruling also struck down the state’s requirement that newly-qualified parties sign an oath of loyalty that says they don’t support violently overthrowing the government.

The Libertarian, Green and Constitution parties have been fighting for easier ballot access for several years now.

In early 2012, Haynes found in favor of  the Volunteer State’s Green and Constitution parties, and ruled that the state’s requirement that parties collect 40,000 signatures by early April was too difficult for the minor parties to achieve. The General Assembly altered some of the ballot access requirements shortly after Haynes’ ruling to allow minor parties more flexibility in choosing candidates and give them several more months to collect the required signatures.

And in 2013, Haynes ruled in favor of Jim Tomasik, the Libertarian candidate for House District 91, who petitioned the court for a preliminary injunction to require the Shelby County Election Commission to list his party affiliation for the special election for the state House seat left vacant by the passing of state Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis.