by Brian Irving
Raleigh Libertarian Examiner
The North Carolina Supreme Court heard oral arguments in what could be a landmark ballot access case for the state. The hearing culminated a five-year legal battle by the Libertarian and Green parties to reform the state’s restrictive ballot access laws.
Five of the seven justices grilled the attorneys for both sides. It appeared from the questions that the justices were very familiar with details of the case and the history of ballot access in the state.
The questions focused on several key issues, including the limits of the state’s compelling interest in regulating elections, what causes so-called “ballot clutter,” and the concept of “voter confusion” that may or may not occur with multiple parties on the ballot and multiple offices up for election.
Justice Edward Brady observed that the bottom line of the case was about control. “The one who controls the law, writes history,” he said.
Several of the justices questioned the argument by the state that a ballot with more than two parties would result in long lines on election day and discourage voting.
“What’s wrong with that,” commented Justice Brady. He pointed out that the United States is the only major democratic nation with only two political parties.
“There are lots of other ways of dealing with long lines than keeping people off the ballot,” responded Ken Soo, an attorney representing the Libertarian Party.
At one point, Brady asked the state’s attorney, Alex Peters,“Is ballot access a fundamental right” and Peters responded, “The right to vote is a fundamental right.” Brady said, “That doesn’t answer the question.”
The state attorney was also vague in responding to several questions for the justices to specifically define the state’s “compelling interest” in limiting the number of parties on the ballot.
“There never has been any evidence provided by the state to show that it has a compelling interest in such restrictive ballot access laws,” said Robert Elliot, an ACLU attorney representing the Green Party.
“This case is not about the Libertarian Party,” said Barbara Howe, Libertarian Party chair, “This case is about the people of North Carolina.” She said that the huge barriers erected by the State for ballot access, which get bigger every year, limit political dialogue and limit voting choice.
“Limiting choices is not a good thing,” she said. “More voices participating, not fewer, make for a vibrant democracy.”
In addition to Libertarians and Greens, several members of the Constitution Party attended the hearing to support the lawsuit. Terry Hardison, a Constitution Party director, summed up their feelings when he said, “If they win, we win.”
It will probably take several months for the court to issue a decision, according to attorneys for the Libertarian Party. They believe that whatever the court decides, it will be a landmark decision for ballot access.
For background, go to LPNC vs. The State at LibertyPoint.org