The Maryland Green Party and the Libertarian Party of Maryland yesterday filed suit in US District Court in Baltimore seeking to reduce the number of signatures required to appear on the ballot for the June 2 presidential primary election, claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines made it impossible for them to exercise their First Amendment rights.
According to Maryland law, a non-principal political party must collect at least 10,000 signatures in order to be eligible to appear on the ballot. The Maryland Green Party had collected approximately 5,000 signatures and the Libertarian Party of Maryland had collected approximately 3,000 by early March 2020 when they were forced to suspend signature collection due to the public health emergency.
“We believe we have a constitutional right to seek to be on the ballot. The COVID-19 State of Emergency has interfered with the exercise of that right,” Andy Ellis, Co-Chair of the Maryland Green Party, and Bob Johnston, Chair of the Libertarian Party said in a statement. “We have asked the Governor to remedy this situation and he has not, so it is time to ask the court to intervene. Giving voters choices is too important to cast aside.”
The Maryland State Board of Elections in April voted to temporarily allow the collection electronic signatures. But both the Green Party and Liberatarian Party say the policy does not adequately address their concerns.
“Electronic solicitation is a weak substitute for in-person solicitation at fairs and festivals and via door-to-door canvassing, which have been how the Maryland Green Party has obtained signatures in current and past petition drives,” Ellis said in a statement.
Other federal courts have ruled in favor of political parties seeking a reduction in signature requirements to be recognized as a political party. In Libertarian Party of Illinois v. Pritzker, 2020 WL 1951687 (N.D. Ill. April 23, 2020) the court reduced the signature requirement to 10%, and in Esshaki v. Whitmer, 2020 WL 1910154 (E.D. Mich. April 20, 2020) the court reduced the signature requirement to 50%.
The deadline for party candidates to submit a declaration of intent to appear on the ballot is July 6. The deadline for signatures to retain party recognition is August 3.