Alabama Police Confront Sarwark: Initial Result – Sarwark 1, Government Officials 0

Petitioning in Alabama
Mobile AL post office, Photo Credit, Nicholas Sarwark.

In a social media post yesterday, Nicholas Sawark, who is gathering signatures for Libertarian Party Ballot Access in Alabama, shared the following about an initial success in enrolling the local police in assisting the Libertarian Party of Alabama in educating ill- (or mis-) informed government officials about his right, and the right of others to peacefully do so on a public sidewalk, outside a local post office.

Nick reports:

“(Thursday 18 November 2021), I went out with another Alabama petitioner and we were told to leave the public sidewalk in front of the Mobile (Alabama) post office by at least three different officials.

“I politely explained to the officials that the sidewalk outside of the post office was a public forum protected by the First Amendment and that, while we would be polite and courteous and avoid impeding the traffic of customers coming in an out of the post office, we would not be leaving.

“They called the Mobile Police Department to ask them to remove us from the property.

“Two uniformed officers arrived and told us that they had received the complaint from the post office officials. I explained to them that we were staying on the sidewalk, not impeding traffic or harassing people, and explained that we had a First Amendment right to collect ballot access signatures on a public sidewalk.

“The officers then informed the post office people that we were entitled to collect signatures and went on their way.
. . .

“It’s a tough job to bring change and competition to a state that’s used to being run by one party for the benefit of the connected few. But it’s made a whole lot easier when you work together with good people.”

Nick also reports being offered the assistance of a supportive local attorney should he need it in the future.

Bottom line: Nick-1, (ill-informed, or mis-informed, or dishonest) government officials 0. Local police – a passing grade; with the possibility of moving up to a solid A should the department respond to IPR’s request for comment on, or records of, the incident.

IPR hopes Nick and the entire Alabama team both stay safe out there, and keep us updated.

This entry was posted in Libertarian Party and tagged , on by .

About Joseph Buchman

Joe is a retired, formerly tenured professor of marketing and finance with an interest in adventure travel, chasing total solar eclipses, and Burning Man. He is a long-time volunteer with the Sundance Film Festival, former Chair of the Utah Libertarian Party and current Chair of the financial Audit Committee of the Libertarian Party. He and Cindy, his wife of over 25 years, have raised four highly successful children, several cats, and have generally failed with every houseplant ever gifted to them.

20 thoughts on “Alabama Police Confront Sarwark: Initial Result – Sarwark 1, Government Officials 0

  1. Seebeck

    While Czarwarped is correct, so what?

    This is known for over a decade.

    He should be putting his legal experiences to use fighting for ballot access in court.

  2. Richard Winger

    Fortunately there are already other attorneys who are experts in ballot access, who are fighting for ballot access in court.

  3. Shawn Levasseur

    When I was petitioning outside my local Post Office last year, someone came out to inform me I couldn’t do so on the paved path from the sidewalk to the front door, as it was USPS property, but I still could on the sidewalk itself. So at least MY PO officials know better.

    I’m still not sure about that on-property prohibition, but it’s a trivial point in my case.

  4. Andy

    OK, I feel compelled to make my IPR comeback here. William Saturn emailed me awhile ago, asking me to return to IPR, but I did not care about returning at the time, but this post makes me want to return.

    I am glad to see Nicholas Sarwark is FINALLY doing something about this problem of petition circulators being run out of locations that carry public foot traffic, which has been plaguing groups doing petitions for many years, and has especially been troublesome for minor parties and independent candidates seeking spots on ballots, but why did he do NOTHING about this during the 6 years that he was National Chairman of the Libertarian Party?

    You might say, “Well maybe he did not know about this problem then.” NOT true. He was informed about it repeatedly by more than one person, including myself. I personally told him about my getting falsely arrested in Arkansas for gathering petition signatures for Libertarian Party ballot access at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. He knew about this shortly after it happened, because it happened shortly before the 2015 Libertarian Party of Arkansas State Convention, where he came in as a speaker, and he was informed about what happened how I was falsely arrested at that convention.

    One might say, “Well maybe he was too busy to do anything as National Chair.”

    My response to this is IF he was really too busy, he could have delegated this to other people. Ballot access is one of the most important issues for the Libertarian Party, and one of the biggest impediments to ballot access is when ballot access petition circulators are illegally run out of places where they are asking people to sign these petitions. The US and state constitutions and multiple statutes and court rulings are already on our side. The problem is that most government employees are either ignorant about the law, or they know that we have a right to do this, but they don’t care what the law says and they want to stop us for doing it anyway because they don’t think that we have the ability to do anything about it. Our side can actually win money in these cases, and I know that Nicholas knows this, because I know that he knows that two LP members, Dan Reale in Connecticut, and Kevin Shaw in California, filed lawsuits over being prevented from speaking in public spaces, and they both won monetary settlements. The Dan Reale case in Connecticut involved LP ballot access petitioning in a public park during a pubic festival in the city of Meridan, where Dan and two other Libertarians were run out of the park by the police, under the order of the Mayor. They won a $37,000 settlement, $32,000 of which went to the LP of Connecticut. The Kevin Shaw case in Los Angeles, California was against a community college, and had to do with campus police and the administration preventing him from handing out copies of the US Constitution and talking to students about the Young Americans for Liberty club on campus. Although Kevin Shaw is an LP member, this case did not directly involve the Libertarian Party, but it is still relevant, as Libertarian Party ballot access petition circulators are frequently hassled on college campuses. Kevin Shaw won a $200,000 settlement. Dan Reale is a professional paralegal, so he knew how to fill out all of the paper work to file a lawsuit. Kevin Shaw got help from The FIRE (The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), which was how he was able to file a lawsuit and prevail in his case. I know that Nicholas Sarwark knew about both of these cases, because I personally emailed him, and the entire LNC, about these cases on more than one occasion. I was even the one who got them to mention the Dan Reale case on the LP.org website.

    So while he was National Chairman, he KNEW about these two cases that Libertarians won about defending free speech in places open to the public, but still he did NOTHING. He never even attempted to delegate this task to anyone else. Even after I pointed out that in the case in Connecticut, the LP of Connecticut got $32,000 out of the $37,000 settlement, and I suggested that the national party, and the state party could sign on as co-plaintiffs in one of the cases, and get a cut of the settlement, and he still did NOTHING.

    The state of Arkansas arbitrarily banned petition signature gathering in front of motor vehicle licensing buildings in 2016 while petition drives were going on for Medical Marijuana and Casino Gaming. They did not pass any law saying that people can’t gather signatures in front of these buildings, which would have been totally unconstitutional, they just did it. A long time Libertarian who used to do a lot of ballot access petitioning for the LP was in Arkansas gathering signatures on these ballot initiatives, and got arrested. The charges in his case got THROWN OUT in court PRIOR to the Libertarian Party starting its ballot access drive for 2017. I called in to an LNC teleconference, and informed the LNC, including then Chairman Sarwark, about this situation, and I suggested that the party take action about this prior to the LP of Arkansas ballot access drive starting. They acted like they were going to take action, yet they did NOTHING. During the course of the LP ballot access drive, I went to the SAME motor vehicle licensing building where the Libertarian who was gathering signatures the previous year for Medical Marijuana and Casino Gaming petitions, and I was run out by a vehicle licensing department (know in Arkansas as Arkansas Revenue) manager, who was backed up by a police officer, under the threat of arrest. I reported this incident to the entire LNC, including then Chairman Sarwark, and they did NOTHING.

    One may say, “Well maybe Nicholas Sarwark did not do anything for you because you were not one of his supporters.” Well, I ACTUALLY VOTED FOR HIM TO BE CHAIRMAN THE FIRST TIME HE RAN AND GOT ELECTED, which was in 2014. I was among the first people to congratulate him on winning after he won at the 2014 LP National Convention in Columbus, OH. The incident where I got arrested for petitioning at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro was in 2015, so since I voted for him in 2014, I was one of his supporters at the time. I will say that I did NOT vote for him to be re-elected in 2018 or in 2020, but this issue should have NOTHING to do with who votes for who in an internal party race. I think that this issue transcends the Libertarian Party. This issue is about free speech, and being able to engage in the political process. If people can’t speak in places that are open to the public, and if people can’t engage in the political process, then we have a serious problem. This is FAR bigger than internal Libertarian Party issues and personality disputes.

    The victory at this Post Office in Mobile, AL, described above, is nice, HOWEVER, it should be pointed out that among these type of disputes, this is perhaps the EASIEST type of situation for a petition circulator to prevail. Why? BECAUSE IT LITERALLY SAYS IN THE US POST OFFICE REGULATIONS THAT PEOPLE CAN GATHER PETITION SIGNATURES IN FRONT OF US POST OFFICES IF THE SIDEWALK IS ALSO A CITY SIDEWALK. Unfortunately, the current court ruling with the Post Office, prohibits people from signing petitions on INTERIOR Post Office sidewalks (although it does say you can ask people to sign on the interior sidewalk, the ruling requires you to go off of the interior Post Office property for the person to sign the petition, which in practice, makes petition signature gathering on interior Post Office property useless), however, the ruling also says that petition circulators can stand on public sidewalks in front of Post Offices and have people sign petitions there IF the sidewalk is also a city sidewalk. I have personally prevailed multiple times when Post Office employees tried to run me off of a Post Office that is directly off of a city sidewalk, and I am not an attorney.

    The victory above is nice, but in all honesty, it is really overly impressive. I would be a lot more impressed if he were to prevail in a situation like this somewhere else, like at a shopping center or store (and yes, the courts have ruled that corporate property open to the public is fair ground for free speech activities like petition signature gathering; and note that most of these venues have received taxpayer funding or other state handouts, and a lot of them are on land which was seized and given to them via eminent domain), or at a government building that is hassling petition circulators, like a motor vehicle licensing office, or a public library, or a college campus, or a public arena or civic center, or a public event of some kind. I was personally threatened with arrest for petitioning in Alabama in 2012 at the Jefferson Birmingham Civic Center, and at the Vestivia Hills Public Library, and also at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. We talked to the administration, and we worked it out so we could get some signatures on that campus, however, they LIMITED us to a “free speech zone” where we were cut off from talking to most of the people on the campus. The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa is a huge campus, with lots of large open spaces, and lots of places where one could gather signatures on the campus, and we were in no way interfering with any classes or business that took place on the campus, so limiting us to a tiny “free speech zone” where we were cut off from talking to most people was absurd, and illegal. During this same petition drive in 2012, petition circulators were hassled at other locations, such as being run out of the community college for Jefferson County, which is where Birmingham is located, and petition circulators were also limited to only being able to gather signatures on the outer perimeter public city sidewalks at the University of Alabama Birmingham campus, which is in downtown Birmingham. Being limited to only gathering signatures on the city sidewalks which surrounded this campus cut the petition circulators off from being able to talk to most of the people on the campus. We talked to a Libertarian attorney from Virginia, and also an attorney for the Gary Johnson for President campaign, and they acted like they were going to do something about these incidents, but NEVER did. These incidents were also reported to the LNC, but they did NOTHING as well. 2012 was before Nicholas Sarwark became the Chairman, so I am NOT blaming him for this, however, he continued the policy of DOING NOTHING about these incidents during the entire 6 years he was National Chairman. If anyone brings up the, “Well maybe he was too busy as Chairman to do anything about it,” excuse, I do NOT buy it. Even if he was busy, a National Chairman can delegate tasks to other people, and a National Chairman can also bring a lot of attention to an issue. He FAILED to do either for 6 years, in spite of this having been brought to his attention multiple times during those 6 years.

    Now one may say, “Well we did make the ballot in Alabama in 2012, so what difference does it make if the petition circulators got hassled and run out of locations there?” My response to this is that yes, we made the ballot, however, THE PARTY HAD TO SPEND SEVERAL THOUSAND DOLLARS EXTRA TO RESCUE THE PETIITON DRIVE FROM PROBABLE FAILURE BY SHELLING OUT EXPENSE MONEY TO BRING IN MORE PETITION CIRCULATORS TOWARD THE END OF THE PETITION DRIVE. THIS EXPENSE WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN NECESSARY IF WE HAD NOT BEEN HASSLED AND RUN OUT OF SO MANY LOCATIONS.

    This problem is not unique to Alabama. These problems with petition circulators being hassled, and run out of locations, or forced to stand in “free speech zones” where they are cut off from talking to most people, and sometimes arrested on false charges, happen in most states, most every time there is a petition drive. This drives up the cost of ballot access, and also increase the odds of ballot access drives failing. There have been multiple Libertarian Party candidates who have NOT qualified for the ballot over the years because of this problem. Sometimes when the Libertarian Party qualifies its presidential candidate for the ballot in a state, most people ASSUME that the Libertarian Party had ballot access in that state, which it did, but sometimes just for President, as in some states, such as New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, to name a few, there are separate petition requirements for candidates for district offices, and sometimes these district office candidates FAIL to qualify for the ballot even when the presidential candidate qualifies, but most of the party membership never hears about the district office candidates who did not qualify. One of the biggest reasons that these candidates do not qualify for the ballot at times IS BECAUSE PETITION CIRCULATORS GOT ILLEGALLY RUN OUT OF LOCATIONS THAT CARRY PUBLIC FOOT TRAFFIC.

    Why should the Libertarian Party bother to fight these cases? 1) Winning these cases would help ease ballot access for future ballot access drives, because after our side gets a victory it causes the government officials to back down in the future, 2) WE CAN WIN MONEY VIA A SETTLEMENT, and 3) it would generate positive publicity for the Libertarian Party, as Libertarians could be known for defending free speech is spaces open to public foot traffic.

    I imagine that most people who read this article have done little to no petition signature gathering themselves. If they did, they would KNOW that it is pretty easy to prevail at a Post Office which is directly off of a city sidewalk. I have been kicked out of Post Offices before, but I have NEVER been run out of one that is directly off of a city sidewalk, so long as I was on the city sidewalk. I have had some instances where some postal employees TRIED to get me kicked off of a city sidewalk, but they either backed down after finding out what the law was, or that I knew what the law is, or, the police came out, and found out, or knew, what the law was. SO PREVAILING AT A POST OFFICE WHICH IS DIRECTLY OFF OF A CITY SIDEWALK IS PROBABLY THE EASIEST ACCESS BATTLE TO WIN AS A PETITION CIRCULATOR.

    I will be interested in finding out if he wins any battles at venues where it is more difficult for petition circulators to prevail in an access to the location for signature gathering battle. This petition drive, as well as pretty much every other petition drive which the Libertarian Party conducts, could be used as an opportunity to get some lawsuits going where the party could win some victories for free speech. IS HE, OR ANYONE ELSE, GOING TO GO TO THE EFFORT TO DO THIS?

  5. Andy

    Here’s a short video of me being ILLEGALLY run out of the front of a motor vehicle license building (known in Arkansas as an Arkansas Revenue office) in Arkansas earlier this year for gathering petition signatures for Libertarian Party ballot access. Now as far as being run out of a location by the police while petitioning, this encounter is pretty mild compared to most, but I anticipated that this would happen, so I did not bother trying to fight it. Note that prior to this, the State Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Arkansas had contacted the head office of Arkansas Revenue about this via email, and they had sent him back a BS response, denying that we had a right to do this there, even though there was already a federal court ruling out of Nebraska, which is in the SAME federal circuit court as Arkansas, that said that we DO have a right to gather petition signatures in front of state and local government offices, such as motor vehicle license buildings. After they had rebuffed him, I emailed them myself, and in my email, I included links to multiple court rulings and statutes which back up our right to gather petition signatures at places like this, and they NEVER responded to me.

    Anyway, below if the video. IS ANYONE IN THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY GOING TO ASSIST IN GETTING A LAWSUIT GOING OVER THIS?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VypBbD3_M8g

  6. Andy

    “Shawn Levasseur
    November 22, 2021 at 21:53
    When I was petitioning outside my local Post Office last year, someone came out to inform me I couldn’t do so on the paved path from the sidewalk to the front door, as it was USPS property, but I still could on the sidewalk itself. So at least MY PO officials know better.

    I’m still not sure about that on-property prohibition, but it’s a trivial point in my case.”

    Back in the 1990’s, the US Post Office issued an unconstitutional and tyrannical decree which banned petition signature gathering at US Post Offices. The Initiative and Referendum Institute filed a lawsuit over this, and the judge in the case made an idiotic, and I would say corrupt, ruling, saying that people could only gather petition signatures at US Post Offices IF the entrance or exit of the Post Office was DIRECTLY off of a city sidewalk. This made around 95% of the Post Offices in the country off limits for petition signature gathering, since most Post Office entrances or exits are NOT directly off of city sidewalks. The Initiative and Referendum Institute appealed this decision, and it was later added in that it IS permissible to ask people to sign a petition in front of a Post Office, even if the entrance or exit is not directly off of a city sidewalk, HOWEVER, the ruling also said that it is NOT permissible for anyone to sign the petition on US Post Office property, and that they must go OFF the Post Office property to sign the petition. The judge who made this ruling suggested that petition circulators work in teams if they are at a Post Office where the entrance or exist is not directly off of a city sidewalk, with one petition signature gatherer standing on Post Office property near the doors, asking people to sign the petitions, and directing them to another petition circulator, who is standing OFF of Post Office property with the actual petitions for the people to sign. This is COMPLETELY IDIOTIC and is NOT PRACTICAL AT ALL. First of all, this means it would take two petition circulators to do job that could easily be done by one, thereby unnecessarily tying up a petition circulator, be they an unpaid volunteer, or a paid signature gatherer, at a location which could easily be worked by one person. Second of all, MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE THE TIME TO GO OFF OF POST OFFICE PROPERTY TO SIGN A PETITION. Many people who would sign, will just leave without signing, because a lot of people are in a hurry, or they have children with them, or they may be elderly or have a handicap or injury of some type which makes mobility more difficult for them. So practically speaking, it simply is NOT viable to gather petition signatures at a Post Office where the entrance or exit is NOT directly off of a city sidewalk in this manner.

    I know that the Initiative and Referendum Institute did try to take this case to the US Supreme Court, but the case has been sitting there for years, and thus far, the US Supreme Court has not taken this case. Somebody really ought to sue again over this.

    There are THOUSANDS of Post Offices in this country. There is at least one in every jurisdiction. People are prohibited from gathering petition signatures at most of them. Note that in the Post Office rules, they DO allow voter registration, but it MUST be non-partisan voter registration, as in if they catch somebody pushing a party, they will be kicked out/denied access. The Post Office regulations also allow for raising money for veterans charities.

    Petition circulators being barred from most Post Offices in the country has really made ballot access a lot more difficult than it would be otherwise. It is especially bad if one is gathering signatures on a petition that is for a city or town or county, or for a district, such as a US House district, or a district for a seat in a state legislature, or any other kind of district, because often times a Post Office is a good place to gather signatures on a local petition, because a higher percentage of the people going to that Post Office tend to be from the local area (on average) as compared to a lot of other locations.

  7. Andy

    Thanks, Joseph Buchman.

    I’ve been gone from this site for over 3 years. It looks like this site has got much slower in my absence.

  8. Andy

    Above should read, “I did not vote for him to be reelected in 2016 or in 2018…”

    I also did NOT vote for his endorsed National Chairman candidate, Joe Bishop-Henchman, in 2020, and I am really glad I did not, because he turned out to be a real rat, but this is another issue for another day.

  9. Joseph Buchman Post author

    Andy,

    Facebook seems to have captured much of the audience and debate – but IPR is Facebook “Community Standard Enforcement” free, so I think there is a good chance IPR will make a comeback. Perhaps even sooner than later.

  10. Andy

    “Joseph BuchmanPost author
    December 2, 2021 at 23:56
    Andy,

    Facebook seems to have captured much of the audience and debate – but IPR is Facebook ‘Community Standard Enforcement’ free, so I think there is a good chance IPR will make a comeback. Perhaps even sooner than later.”

    A couple of people who used to post here accused me of driving posters away, yet in my lengthy absence from here, which was over 3 years, traffic here went down quite a bit, which I find to be poetic justice.

    There were actually a few people over the last 3 years who said that they wanted me to comeback. I actually never intended to post here again, but this message thread really hit home for me, because I know what it is like to be hassled and run out of locations, and even (falsely) arrested, for gathering petition signatures, so I felt compelled to comment.

    Even though I have not posted here in over 3 years, I did occasionally pop in to read the articles. I have kept more of my reading and posting about minor parties and independent candidates on Ballot Access News.

  11. Joseph Buchman Post author

    Andy

    “Even though I have not posted here in over 3 years, I did occasionally pop in to read the articles. I have kept more of my reading and posting about minor parties and independent candidates on Ballot Access News.”

    I am an unreserved RICHARD WINGER fan. BAN is an amazing resource. And Richard’s interactions with David are throughout the collection, committed to seeing the LP have 50 state + DC ballot access. He and Jerry are two of the nicest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met.

    Glad you’re back, and if this post had anything to do with it, then maybe I finally posted something on IPR that did some good.

    🙂

  12. Andy

    Joe, yes, if not for this post I may not have returned. I just felt compelled to respond, because the issue of petition circulators being harassed, and illegally run out of locations, and sometimes even falsely arrested, is one of the biggest obstacles to ballot access, as well as simply getting a message out to the public. This issue is frequently ignored, or not even known about, by most people.

    If you got through the archives here, you will find an article about me getting arrested for gathering petition signatures in front of a public library in Ellicott City, Maryland, where I got mace sprayed in my eyes by the police, after I tried to record them giving in an illegal command, and then I got locked in jail for about 8 hours. This happened in December of 2010. The charges got dropped, but NOBODY from the Libertarian Party did anything to help. You will also find an article from around April of 2015, where I got falsely arrested for gathering petition signatures at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, where I spent close to 2 days in jail. Nicholas Sarwark was National Chairman at the time, and he went to Arkansas shortly after this happened, as he spoke at the LP of AR State Convention, and he knew full well what had happened to me, and he did NOTHING about it. The charges in Maryland and Arkansas got dropped, but there was never really any justice on either incident. You can also find an article here from around September of 2015, which contained two videos I had taken the risk to film, of myself and some other petition circulators being illegally run out of a community college campus, and a public city park, both in Oklahoma City, which both had public festivals going on at the time of the incidents. These videos were sent to the entire Libertarian National Committee, of which Nicholas Sarwark was the Chairman at the time, and these videos SHOULD HAVE been ample evidence for lawsuits, yet they did NOTHING. Unfortunately those videos are no longer online, and I do not think I have back up copies of them, but they were online for several years, and long time readers here probably saw them.

    When is the Libertarian Party going to start fighting back over these incidents? I thought that when LP members Dan Reale and Kevin Shaw had those victories I mentioned above, both of which happened in 2018, while Sarwark was still National Chairman, that party leadership would realize that we CAN win these battles, and that party leadership actually would start fighting back over these incidents, yet STILL they did NOTHING, and now it is December of 2021, and they are STILL doing NOTHING about it.

    I agree that Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News is a great resource, and that he has done an excellent job with it over the years. Richard Winger should be regarded as a hero.

  13. Austin Cassidy

    Robert —

    Eventually I’ll get Disqus or some similar service going on here. Until then I’m the sole moderator of comments and I basically don’t want to have to spend much time on them.

    So with that said… I don’t mind if you comment but please don’t repeatedly spam posts with totally unrelated remarks, no racial or anti-semitic material, don’t launch vicious personal attacks against the authors or contributors to this site, etc.

    As it stands right now, no one writing for this site is getting paid and I’m definitely not making any money or even covering the cost of web hosting. So the minimum I’d ask for is we keep things civil. There are no official rules, just common sense stuff.

    If someone’s comments become annoying (to me) or create an issue, the simplest way for me to resolve that is to restrict that person. It’s not personal, it’s not some agenda, it’s literally that I don’t want to be bothered with people complaining about nasty personal attacks or excessive spam.

    If everyone just plays cool and says their bit, then everything will be fine.

  14. Nathan Norman

    Hello my friends. I am happy to come back here and comment again. Seven years is a long time.

    I would like to use my real name (and email) but apparently any mention of it subjects the comment to automatic removal.

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