Arkansas Legislature Makes Petition Deadlines for New Parties and Independent Candidates Much Earlier

On May 28, a special session of the Arkansas legislature passed SB 8, which moves the 2016 primary for all office from May to the first Tuesday in March. Also, it moves the filing deadline for candidates running in party primaries from March to November of the year before the election. The bill only relates to the 2016 election, and is automatically repealed after that election is over.

Because the petition deadlines for newly-qualifying parties and non-presidential independent candidates are tied to the date on which candidates file for the primary, this bill makes those independent and minor party petition deadlines much earlier. The non-presidential independent petition deadline for 2016 would be November 9, 2015, if the Governor signs this bill. The petition for newly-qualifying parties becomes September 2, 2015.

Ironically, several independent candidates are already suing Arkansas over the March 2016 deadline. That case is Moore v Martin, e.d., 4:14cv-65. On May 27, the state filed its brief in defense of the old March petition deadline. The state says the plaintiffs don’t have standing because they didn’t petition. However, three times, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down or remanded ballot access restrictions even though the plaintiffs hadn’t petitioned. Those three plaintiffs were Gus Hall (Communist Party presidential candidate, who wanted to get on the California ballot as an independent candidate in 1972), Eugene McCarthy (who wanted to be on the Texas ballot as an independent in 1976), and the Socialist Labor Party (which wanted to be on the Ohio ballot in 1968).

The state’s brief says the Eighth Circuit ruled in Constitution Party of South Dakota v Nelson in 2010 that the Constitution Party didn’t have standing to challenge a South Dakota law on how many signatures a member of the party needed to get on the party’s primary ballot. But the brief of the State of Arkansas doesn’t reveal that the reason for that outcome is that the only Constitution Party candidate who tried to petition to get on his party’s primary ballot refused to be a co-plaintiff in that lawsuit. The state’s brief says that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Thomas T. Storer, an independent candidate for U.S. House in California in 1972, was told by the U.S. Supreme Court that he didn’t have standing to challenge the independent petition requirement. But that was because Storer had been a Democrat during the year before the 1972 primary, and the U.S. Supreme Court said that since Storer didn’t meet the disaffiliation requirement, which was upheld, therefore he couldn’t possibly have petitioned successfully anyway, so his objections to the number of signatures was irrelevant. This is not the same as saying that Storer didn’t have standing because he didn’t circulate a petition. Thanks to Michael Pakko and Frontloading HQ for the news about the Arkansas bill.

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