U.S. District Court rules against Libertarian Party of New Hampshire lawsuit against ban on off-year party petitioning

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From the Concord Monitor:

Efforts by the Libertarian Party to win back its official listing on New Hampshire ballots received a setback Thursday when a federal judge upheld a 2014 state law that puts a time limit on the period during which the party can gather the thousands of necessary supporting signatures.

The law in question, HB 1542, “prescribes a reasonable and nondiscriminatory ballot-access restriction that is justified by the state’s interest in requiring political parties to demonstrate a sufficient level of support,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro in a decision,which rejects a challenge to the law filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire.

The law says the signatures needed to be listed as an official party on state ballots cannot be collected before Jan. 1 of the election year. This means the Libertarian Party – or any other party – must collect at least 15,000 signatures of registered voters within about seven months, before party primaries on the second Tuesday of September, to be listed officially on the 2016 state ballot.

Read the rest of the article here.

24 thoughts on “U.S. District Court rules against Libertarian Party of New Hampshire lawsuit against ban on off-year party petitioning

  1. Mark Herd for U.S. Senate 2016 (CA)

    Bad news but dont cry. I can get 15k sigs in 6 months with 1 other guy. 500 sigs wk. X 2 equals 4k mo equals 24k in 6 mo. Call me if you need to call in the pros. 2 bucks a sig is enough to cover expenses. I can name that tune for 30k. Cheaper if we use volunteers. Herd Political Solutions. Dont forget to vote Libertarian in 2016. VoteHerd2016.com

  2. paulie

    Herd has clearly never petitioned in NH. Whole different world there. Try it first before you talk about how easy or hard it is or what you can do there. It’s not like the places you worked before at all. Especially when you have to go up to the boonie towns to qualify that Northern NH district….good luck!

    Not that anyone would have the money to hire you for this anyway. I considered deleting the commercial advertisement, but in all fairness, I’ve advertised petitioning services in IPR comments as well, so that wouldn’t be fair to the competition if I deleted their ads.

  3. Caryn Ann Harlos

    This is terribly disappointing. Paulie perhaps you can give more specifics on how it is different in NH? I know primarily why but I am sure there are other things I could learn.

  4. paulie

    Several reasons.

    It’s one signature per page, and the wording and appearance of the form lead some people to believe that they are actually being asked to change their party on their voter registration as opposed to just allowing the voters to have another choice. Plus not seeing other people already signed on the page removes a psychological motivator to sign. Also the physical act of switching the pages constantly eats up time.

    Another reason is that given its early primary, NH voters are kind of spoiled and jaded when it comes to anything political. They are used to having all sorts of candidates chasing after their votes, so they react in one of two ways often times – either try to get away from yet another person trying to talk to them about politics or linger a long time asking a bunch of questions and sharing their own opinions.

    NH is one of the easiest states to get into the legislature – something like 400 legislators in multi-member districts in a low population state. So, it’s actually fairly easy for libertarians to get elected as Democrats and Republicans, which perpetuates the illusion that a separate LP is not needed. Additionally, there’s a fairly well organized anti-voting libertarian movement in NH, and they are likewise hostile in many cases to the LP, as are many of the “libertarian Republicans,” due to the tyranny of small differences and competing for the same slice of libertarian minded people.

    At the same time, there’s a backlash against the Free State Project – some NH residents think it’s a bunch of outsiders coming in and trying to stage a hostile takeover, so there’s a bunch of people who resent the hell out of anything libertarian, especially if you are not a long term resident of NH.

    With all that hostility you are more likely to get complaints that lead to not being allowed to get a store or getting messed with by cops and security guards even in public locations (just because you have a right to be there doesn’t mean they recognize that). It also means you are less likely to get a store to begin with.

    In the more highly populated southern part of NH, many of the people you will run into won’t be NH voters. They may be recent arrivals who haven’t switched their registration yet – “Massholes” or otherwise – or they may in fact not even live in NH at all; many people from nearby states, especially Mass, go to NH for tax-free shopping, it’s a touristy area in the summer, and several state lines are a very short distance away.

    Up in the north part of the state, the population is sparse, and finding locations that are even busy enough to work is hard – and then you still fairly close to Maine and Vermont, and/or Canada.

    A lot of NH natives, especially in the north part, are very insular and resentful. If they don’t know you they don’t want to talk to you. They don’t like out of staters moving to or even visiting NH. They’ll give people bad directions on purpose just for laughs (and because if you don’t know where you’re going you have no business going there). Sign a petition? For a different party? For someone they don’t know, who sounds like they are not a native? Good luck!

    The motels are very expensive compared to many other states. So let’s say Herd got his two bucks a sig, well, a motel that may be 200 a week in some states will run 400 a week in NH. That’s a chunk of your money right there.

    Despite all this, you’ll get some signatures. But wait, the “fun” is just starting (at least for the party that is getting them). You now have to distribute these signatures to every town clerk in the state, separately, pick them up from said clerks, and then take them to the SOS. That means you have to find these offices in each town, get to them, find out what hours they are open (very odd hours in many cases)…or you can try your luck with the mail, which has been known to disappear entirely, or get there much later than reasonable, leading to deadlines being missed. Did I mention you have to go back to pick them up (or rely on the town clerks to send them back to you, which you may not be able to count on)? I think I also forgot to report that some town clerks take week or more long vacations right around near deadline time, and they may well be the only person in their office. You can come back after the deadline.

    That’s not even necessarily an exhaustive list. But those are a few of the reasons why several petitioners have reported getting a half or a third the signatures in an hour or day or week in NH as they are used to getting in most states. And I’ve heard this from quite a few petitioners now.

    Oh yeah… one other thing. It’s a pretty high number of signatures relative to the population, compared with a lot of states. When you cut out the odd year what you are left with for the most part is A) several months of very cold weather – ice, snow, sleet, biting winds – which make it hard to drive around to locations, petitio outdoors (which in most cases is where you have to petition), get people to stop for a few extra seconds – or B) Summer tourist season, super-expensive motels, lots of tourists everwhere, and the deadline right up on your ass. The summer prior (with no deadine to contend with) and the fall season being eliminated cuts the petition window in half, but it makes it more than twice as hard to get and verify the signtures by the deadline.

  5. Mark Axinn

    Paulie–

    Thanks for explanation above. My gut reaction was that this ruling is a set-back, but it’s not really that horrible since NH affords seven MONTHS to get 15,000 sigs (as opposed to, e.g., New York which affords six WEEKS to get the same amount).

    But petitioning here is obviously much easier (although we have a ban on out-of staters, which is something we want to challenge, that has never been a problem in a state with lots of petitioners already registered here), and with major urban centers throughout the state, a much larger and open-minded population and more reasonable rules about submitting the petitions.

  6. Caryn Ann Harlos

    Wow Paulie…. I did learn a lot. This part is the part I knew “there’s a fairly well organized anti-voting libertarian movement in NH, and they are likewise hostile in many cases to the LP, as are many of the “libertarian Republicans,” due to the tyranny of small differences and competing for the same slice of libertarian minded people.”

    But the rest, no idea.

  7. Andy

    “Mark Axinn

    August 29, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Paulie–

    Thanks for explanation above. My gut reaction was that this ruling is a set-back, but it’s not really that horrible since NH affords seven MONTHS to get 15,000 sigs (as opposed to, e.g., New York which affords six WEEKS to get the same amount).

    But petitioning here is obviously much easier (although we have a ban on out-of staters, which is something we want to challenge, that has never been a problem in a state with lots of petitioners already registered here), and with major urban centers throughout the state, a much larger and open-minded population and more reasonable rules about submitting the petitions.”

    It is much easier to get 15,000 valid petition signatures in New York than it is in New Hampshire, even though New York has a shorter circulating period.

    New York, with a population of 19,746,227, has a much higher population than New Hampshire, which has a population of 1,326,813.

    Given New York’s much higher population, the signature requirement is a lower percent of the population as compared to New Hampshire’s full party status petition requirement.

    Also, a lot more people, means that there are a lot more places to gather signatures in New York than in New Hampshire.

    The petition forms are also easier to work with in New York, as New York has at least 10 signatures on a page (it may have been more, but I only petitioned in New York on one occasion, and it was like 5 years ago). New Hampshire petitions only have one signature per page.

    The out-of-state petitioner ban in New York is a bad thing, but it is easy to get around because you can just have witnesses work with out-of-state petitioners and they can sign off the declarations, or you can just have the out-of-state petitioners register to vote at somebody’s home in New York.

    You may not realize it Mark, but this decision in New Hampshire is a really bad thing, and it will make it much harder for the Libertarian Party to get full party status in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has a full party status petition which requires 14,556 valid signatures, and if completed, it would allow the LP of New Hampshire to run a full slate of candidates with the Libertarian Party label next to their names. New Hampshire also has a petition to just place the Presidential candidate on the ballot, and this requires 3,000 signatures, but you can’t start until you know who the candidate is because they don’t allow candidate substitution (and even the 3,000 signatures is deceptively difficult in New Hampshire, in part because they require 1,500 valid out of each of New Hampshire’s two congressional districts, and also because a New Hampshire vote can only sign for one candidate for each office, so if any other minor party or independent candidate for President is petitioning for ballot access, a New Hampshire voter can only sign one of their petitions).

    Being forced to start the full party status petition in the same year as the election means that the first few months of the petition drive would have to be done in cold weather, but even when the weather gets nicer there is still another factor that will work against us, and that is that the competition to hire petition circulators is more intense during the year of the election. There will be a lots of petition drives going on in lots of states in 2016, and this increased demand for petition circulators will drive up prices. So it will cost the LP and any other party that wants to get full party status in New Hampshire more money to do the entire petition drive during the even year of the election than it would if they could start the petition drive during the odd year before the year of the election.

    There was a court case in Rhode Island a few years ago which said that it was OK for a minor party to start circulating a petition in the odd year before the election, so given the proximity of Rhode Island to New Hampshire, I am surprised that the LP of NH lost this decision, although given the hostility that the GOP has shown towards LP ballot access over the last few years, perhaps I should not be surprised.

  8. Kevin

    Paulie has a good explanation of the process in NH, and its problems.

    The “slice of the pie” issue is real, but on the other hand, are we more worried about the party label, or the result? Many NH “libertarian Republicans”, and even some NH Democrats, are more libertarian than mainstream Libertarians. Breaking the two-party mold might be hard, but we have plenty of libertarians in office here. Most are “R”, but quite a few are “D”.

    Thankfully, we have the nonpartisan New Hampshire Liberty Alliance to rank politicians and candidates based on issues.

    That said, I strongly disagree with the protectionist ballot access system we have.

    Living up on the skinny end of the state (a mile from VT, 30 miles from ME, 40 miles from Canada), I’d say people are generally less insular here than down below. But when it comes to political matters, pretty much everyone is weary and jaded. People cross the street to avoid being glad-handed by major candidates.

    Also, I want to know where to find a motel for even as cheap as $500/wk up here. 😉

  9. paulie

    It’s probably a place you wouldn’t want to stay. Darryl told me he was paying about 400 and that it was a craphole like he would usually never stay in in most places. I think it was in Manchester. Since we usually stay in places like Motel 6, Super 8 and Econolodge, this dive was a couple of grades below that – basically what is known among low end business travelers as a no tell patel. Picture low end hookers and crackheads in the parking lot and hallways, kids with missing teeth running around yelling, people working on junk cars in the parking lot, mold on the walls, sounds of domestic violence often heard at all hours of the day and night, thick glass with a small slot and a buzzer to pass cash and IDs through to rent a room, that sort of thing. I don’t know if any of those details are exactly right but I’ve been in enough motels in enough states to have a pretty good idea.

  10. Darryl W. Perry

    On paper it’s seven month, in reality: you can’t do squat in January, February and most of March, sometimes April is also a “don’t go outside” time. Which drops it to about 3 1/2 months.
    On top of that, if someone says they’re not registered to vote, you can’t simply hand them a registration form to get them registered, they must present themselves to the town/city clerk and fill out the form in person. If the person IS registered, but has moved since registering then the town or city will invalidate the form. Most local election officials have never even dealt with petitions before and the candidate or party representative delivering the petitions must explain the process.
    And yes, most of the voters run the other way when someone says they’re collecting petitions. Not to mention the prohibition on voters signing multiple petitions! Which means the Green Party & Libertarian Party can’t split the cost of petitioners.
    As an aside: a friend of mine ran for Sheriff in 2014 as an independent and the town selectmen refused to accept his petition claiming that he was not allowed to sign his own ballot access petitions (not true). Another town refused to validate any of the petitions because he left them in the mail slot on the day of the deadline because no one was at the town hall to collect petitions. A third municipality had the wrong official certify petitions. In total, he was 21 petitions short of getting on the ballot, appealed to the Ballot Law Commission, and the Secretary of State said “it’s too easy for independents to get on the ballot.”

    From a blog post in response to the ruling:
    Here are some of the lowlights of NH ballot access over the past decade:
    In November 2014, New Hampshire was one of only five states with a Democratic-Republican ballot monopoly for all the statewide offices (the others were California, Alabama, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania).
    In 2006, New Hampshire was one of only four states with a Democratic-Republican monopoly for all the statewide offices.
    And in 2004, Libertarian Party presidential nominee Michael Badnarik was on the ballot in every state except New Hampshire and Oklahoma. The only non-Democratic-Republican statewide candidate on the ballot in 2004 was Ralph Nader. New Hampshire is also one of only ten states in which the Green Party has not been able to place its presidential nominee on the ballot in any of the last three presidential elections.
    http://ballotfairness.info/2015/08/27/bafc-response-to-federal-court-ruling-in-lpnh-v-gardner/

  11. Andy

    Darryl, have you personally collected petition signatures in New Hampshire? Have you personally collected petition signatures in any other states, and if so, which one or ones? If you have personally collected petition signatures in any other state or states and in New Hampshire, how would you compare the difficulty?

    I have personally gathered petition signatures in 33 states, well, actually 32 states plus Washington DC, but I have never gathered petition signatures in New Hampshire. New Hampshire actually does not have petition drives very often, but I have talked to some petition circulators who have worked on petition drives in New Hampshire, and they all described it as a more difficult than average place to gather petition signatures.

  12. Steve Scheetz

    HB 1542, “prescribes a reasonable and nondiscriminatory ballot-access restriction that is justified by the state’s interest”

    REASONABLE….. I love how people toss that word around when it is essentially meaningless, yet very subjective. The “state’s interest” is a code phrase for “Republican and Democrat incumbents’ interest”

    The Judge was, of course, correct in ruling this way, after all, how can one protect a monopoly if he/she allows for competition?

    Sincerely,

    Steve Scheetz

  13. Andy Craig Post author

    @Andy J.

    I don’t know if the problems outlined above are the reason why (I imagine at least partly so), but Darryl did try to petition onto the ballot for State Rep as a NH Liberty Party candidate in 2014. If the same restrictions and rules apply to those petitions, it does make it more understandable why he didn’t complete what in other states would be a pretty small petition (150 valid sigs).

  14. Andy

    “Andy Craig Post author

    August 29, 2015 at 11:10 pm

    @Andy J.

    I don’t know if the problems outlined above are the reason why (I imagine at least partly so), but Darryl did try to petition onto the ballot for State Rep as a NH Liberty Party candidate in 2014. If the same restrictions and rules apply to those petitions, it does make it more understandable why he didn’t complete what in other states would be a pretty small petition (150 valid sigs).”

    It is hard to say without having more information. I have seen other very easy petition drives fail over the years, but New Hampshire being a difficult state for petitioning may have had something to do with it as well.

  15. Darryl W. Perry

    To put the 150 number in perspective; the average state rep has about 3200 constituents, which makes 150 petitions equal to approximately 5% of the total population. In Keene (where I live), there are ~17000 registered voters so 150 valid petitions is equal to ~1% of total registered voters. Had I run for one of the Ward seats (NH has single member, multi-member districts AND flotoral districts that overlay other districts), I would have needed petitions equal to about 5% of the registered voters in the Ward.

    re petitioning: I’ve tried collecting petitions in Alabama and NH. I’d say both were somewhat difficult, however the “leave me alone-ism” in NH makes it more difficult.

    @AC, I was actually trying to petition as a Libertarian so that my petitions would also help get the statewide candidates & Congressional candidate. In the end the statewide & congressional candidates didn’t have enough petitions because most of the “liberty community” was supporting “liberty candidates” who lost badly in the primaries. Petitions are due 5 weeks before the September primary, so the “we’ll sign is candidate x loses the primary” doesn’t help get anyone on the ballot.

  16. Andy Craig Post author

    Yes, the point about the small size of NH districts did occur to me too.

    Good to know. Hopefully some of these NHLA-endorsed major-party libertarians in the legislature will live up to their reputation and introduce some better ballot access bills. 😉

  17. Darryl W. Perry

    The filing period for legislation begins Wednesday (Sept 2) and end on the 18th. I’ve had a rep tell me he’d introduce a bill to create a study committee which would allow me and others to explain many of the issue that exist with members of the Election Law Committee. They would then be tasked with writing a report of their findings.

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