On July 21, the Socialist Party of Michigan filed a lawsuit in state court, seeking a declaration that the number of signatures needed to place a new party on the ballot violates the Michigan Constitution. Michigan and Kansas are the only two states in which the number of signatures required to put a new party on the ballot is a higher number than the number of votes needed for an old party to remain ballot-qualified. Therefore, the law seems discriminatory against new parties, and seems to favor old parties. UPDATE: here is the complaint, which is much more interesting than most complaints, and has lots of information about the modern-day history of the Socialist Party in Michigan. It is 40 pages.
The case is Socialist Party of Michigan v Land, Ingham County Circuit Court, 10-867-CZ. The case depends on a decision of the Michigan Supreme Court in 1982, Socialist Workers Party v Secretary of State. In that 1982 case, the State Supreme Court struck down the old Michigan requirement for new parties to get on the ballot that had been passed in 1976. That old law required new parties to submit a petition, and then also poll a number of votes in the August primary equal to three-tenths of 1% of the turnout in that primary. The “vote” for the party in the August primary was peculiar. Voters who were voting in the primary saw a section of the ballot that asked if they wished certain petitioning parties to appear on the November ballot. Primary voters who voted “yes” were not permitted to vote for any candidates of any party in the primary. The State Supreme Court noted that this was not only very difficult to comply with, but that it was also discrminatory, because the old ballot-qualified parties were not subject to that August primary vote test.
Michigan currently requires 38,024 signatures to put a new party on the ballot, which is 1% of the last gubernatorial vote. But it only requires approximately 20,000 votes for an old party to remain ballot-qualified. The formula for the vote test for a party to remain on the ballot requires a vote of 1% of the winning candidate for Secretary of State’s vote total. Obviously the vote cast for the winning candidate is considerably less than 1% of the entire vote cast.
The Michigan Socialist Party brief also notes that there is some evidence that this year’s Tea Party petition cost $100,000. The Socialist Party has nominated seven candidates for office this year and asks the court to place its nominees on the November ballot. The party has two U.S. House candidates, one state legislative candidate, and four statewide nominees.
The Socialist Workers Party filed a somewhat similar lawsuit against Massachusetts in 1970. That case turned out badly. The lawsuit pointed out that a new party needed a petition signed by 3% of the last gubernatorial vote. But an old party could remain ballot-qualified as long as it had polled one-tenth of 1% for Governor in each of the last three gubernatorial elections. The court upheld the 3% but ruled the vote test to be unconstitutional. The court’s reasoning was flawed. The Massachusetts court should instead have noted that Massachusetts was unconstitutionally discriminating against new parties, and let the legislature decide how to remedy the problem.