Minnesota Activists Should Ask Legislature to Reduce the Number of Signatures for the Petition to Establish a Party

Minnesota has a petition procedure by which a group can transform itself into a ballot-qualified party. The petition must be signed a number of voters equal to 5% of the last vote cast. This provision has existed in the law since 1913, yet it has never been used. Currently it requires 146,297 signatures, due May 1 of the election year. The procedure is contained in Minnesota statutes, section 200.02.

Under a 1980 Eighth Circuit precedent, McLain v Meier, 637 F 1159, a strong case can be made that the Minnesota petition is unconstitutionally difficult. Minnesota is in the Eighth Circuit. The McLain case concerned a very similar North Dakota petition to establish a new ballot-qualified party. The North Dakota petition that was struck down required 15,000 signatures, which was approximately 3.3% of the number of eligible signers. A key fact in the decision was that the procedure had existed since 1939, and it had only been used once (in 1976, by the American Party). Another factor was that the North Dakota petition deadline, June 1, was too early, given that the petition required so many signatures.

North Dakota’s defense was that its independent candidate petition procedures were very easy. No independent candidate for any office needed more than 300 signatures, and those petitions weren’t due until September. Furthermore, North Dakota let independent candidates choose a partisan label. Therefore, minor parties that used the independent candidate procedure could have their party label on the ballot next to the names of their nominees. But this generous characteristic of the North Dakota law did not save the party petition from being struck down.

Like North Dakota, Minnesota also has easy independent candidate petition procedures that also permit a partisan label. Minnesota only requires 2,000 signatures for statewide independents, and 1,000 signatures for U.S. House independents. But Minnesota’s independent candidate petitions permit only two weeks for signature collection.

There have been ballot-qualified minor parties in Minnesota in recent years, and the Independence Party has had party status ever since 1994. The common method for groups to become ballot-qualified is by running a statewide independent candidate, and polling at least 5% of the vote for that candidate (the candidate must also poll 5% of the vote in each county).

Minnesota has a third method by which a group can become a qualified party, but it is also so restrictive that it has never been used. If a group that is not a qualified party places at least 78 nominees on the general election ballot, via the independent petition, it is recognized as a qualified party. But, because of the two-week window for collecting independent petition signatures, this option is not practical.

Minnesota minor party activists should ask a state legislator to introduce a bill, lowering the number of signatures on the party petition. Wisconsin, which has election laws that are similar to Minnesota’s, and which has approximately the same population, only requires 10,000 signatures for a party petition. The Minnesota legislature does not convene until February 25, and even after the legislature convenes, it is not too late to introduce bills.

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