On June 20, the New Hampshire Secretary of State, Bill Gardner, said that the only parties that will have their own party column on the November ballot this year are the Republican and Democratic Parties. He said all other candidates will be in the “Other” column. However, he is aware that the Libertarian Party is working hard on its petition to be a “political organization”, which requires 13,698 signatures by August 8. The party is mostly finished and expects its petition to succeed.
In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, interpreted New Hampshire law to mean that a group that successfully petitions to be a “political organization” does then get a party column on the general election ballot. The decision in Libertarian Party of New Hampshire v Gardner, 638 F.3d 6, says, “There are two ways in which a column on the ballot may be obtained. Any party recognized under state law (that is, one that received at least 4% of the prior vote for the pertinent offices) is able to obtain a column and choose the candidates who appear in it; these candidates ‘shall be arranged upon the state general election ballot in successive party columns.’ Any political organization that is recognized under state law (that is, one that obtained nomination signatures equalling at least 3% of the total votes cast in the prior state general election) has the same entitlement to a column, according to the affidavit of the Deputy Secretary of State David M. Scanlan.”
I was able to reach David Scanlan by phone on June 22. He said was not aware of what the First Circuit had said in its opinion. It is possible the Secretary of State will reconsider his decision not to give the Libertarian Party its own party column. In New Hampshire, the State Supreme Court has already ruled in Akins v Secretary of State, 904 A.2d 702, that discriminatory ballot placement is unconstitutional. Depriving one of the three parties expected to be on the November ballot of its own party column, while giving such a column to the Democratic and Republican Parties, certainly violates the spirit of the Akins decision. Every other state that uses party columns, except New Jersey and Wisconsin, routinely gives all political parties their own party column, whether they meet the statutory defintion of “party” or not.
The Libertarian Party was forced to nominate all its candidates this year in June, under the terms of a new law that didn’t even exist until May 2012. By contrast, the two major parties don’t nominate their candidates until the September primary. The Libertarian Party nominated a presidential and vice-presidential candidate, a nominee for Governor, for U.S. House in both districts, for Executive Council in three districts, for State Senate in three districts, and has 22 nominees for State House. There is no U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire this year, and there are no other statewide offices. Despite this, Mr. Scanlan said on the phone that the Libertarian Party should not be given its own party column because it doesn’t have a “full slate” of candidates. If “full slate” means a party must have nominees for all the state offices, neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party will have a full slate of candidates either; neither major party in New Hampshire ever runs for all 400 of the State House seats.