The Honorable John T. Copenhaver Jr., judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (Charleston) has ruled against LP presidential nominee Bob Barr with regard to the ballot access lawsuit. Barr needed to collect and submit 15,118 signatures by August 1, 2008, but only submitted 13,171 signatures by that date. The signature requirement is based upon 2% of votes cast in the 2004 general election.
Barr’s claim is that the petition requirements are unduly burdensome, and thus violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The campaign submitted 1,097 signatures on July 24th, and 1,866 signatures on July 31st (72.09% validity). The campaign additionally submitted 10,208 signatures on August 1st, and 10,652 signatures on August 20th; however, since it was clear that the campaign had not met the requirement by August 1st, the August signatures were not submitted to county clerks for validation.
In its decision, the court ruled that the signature and date requirements are not unduly burdensome upon candidates, as multiple candidates have met the requirements, including the LP. In 2008, it has been met by one third party for its presidential candidate (Constitution Party), and one independent presidential candidate (Ralph Nader). Further, the court ruled that it would be unduly burdensome upon the elections office to expand the date by which signatures must be permitted, due to restrictions upon their time in light of their other duties, including the requirement that absentee ballots be mailed not less than 42 days prior to the general election, or in this case, by September 23rd. Once the signatures are submitted, they must be validated by county clerks by comparing signatures on the petitions to signatures in their voter database, which is in itself a time-consuming process.
In ruling against Barr the court noted that, had the campaign started collecting signatures only two to three weeks earlier, the criteria would have been met, and also noted that the LP could have started collecting signatures at any time, since there are no time restrictions for ballot access petitions in that state. Bill Redpath (LNC Chair) testified that it was a strategic decision to put off collecting signatures in West Virginia. The court however noted that the Libertarian Party was well aware of the requirements, since the date requirement has been in existence since 1986, and the signature requirement has been existence since 1999; and that the LP simply chose not to collect signatures during a time frame which would result in a successful ballot petition process. The court also noted that the LP started collecting signatures in a nearby state (North Carolina) in 2004, but didn’t start collecting signatures in West Virginia until 17 to 19 days prior to the deadline for petition submission.
Redpath also testified that the rural nature of the state impedes petition efforts, but the court disagreed, noting that there is no reason why petitioners cannot simply gather signatures in the 11 most populous counties, each of which has a major city, and which together comprise 50% of the state’s total population of 1.8 million.
The Court additionally noted that the pool of potential petition signers is unlimited in West Virginia, as anyone registered to vote can sign a petition, petitions can be circulated at any time, voters can sign as many petitions as they wish, and voters are not bound to the candidate whose petition they have signed. Also, the court noted that the petition process itself is not unduly complicated, in that petitioners need not be West Virginia residents, and there is no notarization requirement. Multiple third-party and independent candidates have met the requirements in 2000, 2004, and 2008; and the LP met the requirement in the last general election in 2004.
The court ruled that the failure of Barr/Root to be placed on the ballot for November was caused by their own lack of reasonable diligence, and not by the West Virginia state petition requirements.
The LP paid nothing for WV ballot access, as the entire cost was borne by the Barr campaign according to the Court’s decision. It is unknown whether the LP paid for the failed lawsuit.
The 34-page decision has been uploaded to LFV, and readers are encouraged to read the decision for themselves as it sets forth quite clearly what went wrong in West Virginia. The decision, in PDF format, can be seen and downloaded here: decision-in-barr-v-ireland-wv-ballot-access