Michigan Socialist Party Ballot Access Suit Wins a Partial Procedural Victory

On January 9, a U.S. District Court Magistrate denied Michigan’s attempt to dismiss Erard v Ruth Johnson, eastern district, 2:12cv-13627. The case had been filed by a Socialist Party candidate for Congress in 2012, and argues that Michigan’s ballot access laws relating to newly-qualifying parties are unconstitutional. The Report, written by Magistrate Laurie Michelson, is 71 pages long.

The Magistrate kept the case alive because she believes that two claims in the case have merit: (1) Michigan’s petition wording; (2) Michigan’s requirement that circulators of the petition must be Michigan residents. Assuming the U.S. District Court Judge approves the Magistrate’s Report, there would then be further procedings on those two points.

The Magistrate ruled against Erard on his argument that the Michigan ballot access laws are discriminatory. Erard pointed out that the Michigan petition to get on the ballot is currently 32,261 valid signatures, whereas the vote test in recent elections for an old party to remain on has been approximately 16,000 votes. Erard suggested that, therefore, the state can’t require the Socialist Party to submit more than 16,000 or so valid signatures. But the Magistrate said that because all four of the ballot-qualified minor parties in Michigan complied with the existing petition requirement in the past, therefore the Socialist Party is not being discriminated against. The four minor parties now on the ballot are Libertarian, Green, U.S. Taxpayers (Constitution), and Natural Law. The last time any party in Michigan successfully complied with the petition was in 2002. In 2010, the Tea Party tried to get on the Michigan ballot, but failed.

The Michigan petition says, “Petition to Form New Political Party. Warning: a person who knowingly signs petitions to organize more than one new state political party, signs a petition to organize a new state political party more than once, or signs a name other than his or her own is violating the provisions of the Michigan election law.” Erard presented evidence that this stern language deters some people from signing.


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