On September 17, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock, a Bush Jr. appointee, ruled against an independent candidate for U.S. Senate. The candidate, Laurie Dobson, turned her signatures in on time to the town clerks, but some town clerks did not finish checking her signatures in time for her to take them to the Secretary of State. Dobson v Dunlap, 1:08-cv-00292. Here is the decision.
This decision is one of the worst ballot access decisions ever issued by a federal judge. Even though the candidate obeyed the statutory deadline, the judge blames the candidate for not anticipating that the town clerks wouldn’t have enough time to finish the job. So, the candidate who obeyed the law is punished because the government did not do its job. Judge Woodcock wrote, “A reasonably prudent candidate could and should anticipate the short turnaround time for the registrars and avoid procrastination by filing for and obtaining certifications throughout the signature gathering interval and well in advance of the deadline…Ms. Dobson had the statutory right to wait until 5 p.m. on the statutory deadline before delivering the petitions, but consequences of her decision to delay until the last possible moment is not of constitutional significance.”
The judge also said the May 27 deadline is constitutional. Of course, what he is really saying is that the true deadline is earlier than May 27. In support of his conclusion that the May 27 deadline is constitutional, Judge Woodcock cited the only published precedent anywhere in the nation that upholds an independent candidate deadline earlier than May. He cited Lawrence v Blackwell, a 2005 decision by the 6th circuit which upheld Ohio’s March petition deadline for non-presidential independents. He could have mentioned precedents that struck down March, April, and May deadlines, but he did not do so. Those precedents (for independent candidates other than presidential candidates) are from Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Thanks very much to Deborah Deitsch-Perez for obtaining a copy of the opinion.