The Green Party of the United States has announced lawsuits have been filed in Illinois and Georgia to stop Democratic- and Republican-run boards of elections from exploiting COVID-19, social distancing and shelter-in-place guidelines that prevent the Green Party from gathering petition signatures for candidates. The Green Party has been appealing to governors across the nation for emergency ballot access relief for candidates in the interest of public health and safety. Lawsuits in more states are being explored if officials do not respond.
The Greens note that maintaining these signature requirements despite pandemic conditions also jeopardizes ballot lines for their presidential candidate, who will be nominated at the Green Party convention in July. The Green Presidential candidate was on the ballot on 44 states plus DC in 2016.
The Illinois and Georgia Green Parties have filed lawsuits to force equitable treatment and other state green parties have requested relief from petition requirements, with some positive results. The state of New Jersey has granted the Green Party of New Jersey approval for electronic petitioning after Greens there requested equitable treatment. The Vermont Green Party has been released from petitioning requirements altogether by the state legislature.
Brendan Phillips, Co-chair of the Green Party Ballot Access Committee said, “Ballot access restrictions are perhaps the most egregious obstacles facing independent and third-party candidates. Many states already require near-insurmountable signature requirements just to get on the ballot. These onerous requirements help the controlling parties to maintain power over who is elected. Considering the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, these already very difficult requirements now force candidates to endanger themselves, their families and the very people they seek to represent in public office. We are no longer able to collect petition signatures for ballot access. Unless state Governors take executive action to provide relief, our only path to the ballot in 2020 will be through the courts.”
The Green and Libertarian Parties of Illinois filed a lawsuit on April 2 (pdf) asking that petition signature requirements be waived or suspended for this year’s general election. The Illinois State Board of Elections has refused to modify the signature requirements for “new” parties, including the Green Party, to take into account the Illinois governor’s March 20 emergency “stay at home” order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The current period for obtaining signatures, including for candidates for president, is from March 24 to June 22. The Democrats and Republicans, which are considered “established” parties and have lower signature requirements, petitioned last autumn and the candidates were chosen in a March primary.
“Despite Illinois having one of the most oppressive ballot access laws in the nation, requiring so-called ‘new’ parties to gather 25,000 valid petition signatures from Illinois voters in just 90 days for statewide candidates (which actually requires gathering about 50,000 to thwart challenges from objectors), the Illinois Green Party and its supporters have demonstrated time and again that we are capable of meeting that goal, beginning with the Nader campaign in 2000. Therefore, we believe we have a very strong case to be relieved of the petition-gathering requirement under the current circumstances, which make public petitioning impossible,” said Rich Whitney, Co-chair, Illinois Green Party.
The Green and Libertarian nominees for the U.S. House of Representatives filed a lawsuit on March 26 asking that petition signature requirements for independent and third-party candidates be reduced to account for days lost because of social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Green Party plaintiff Jimmy Cooper III, who is running in the 8th Congressional District, is required to collect over 20,000 signatures by Aug. 14 to get on the ballot. The party is also seeking to collect 7,500 signatures to secure a ballot line for the Green Party presidential candidate.
The plaintiffs said in their complaint that “[t]he public-health emergency caused by COVID-19 makes it virtually impossible to gather petition signatures. . . . Gathering signatures during the COVID-19 outbreak endangers public health and the lives of petition-circulators and potential signers.”
The Green Party of New Jersey wrote a letter to N.J. Governor Phil Murphy on April 7 to request that the Green Party and other independent parties be granted the same rule changes that have allowed the Democratic and Republican candidates to gather and file petition signatures electronically as well as in person. On March 19 the governor signed an executive order allowing voters to fill out and submit petitions electronically and candidates to submit their petitions electronically for Democratic and Republican candidates. In response to public pressure, the governor has since extended the order to apply to independent candidates for the U.S. Senate and local elections. He has not yet decided on petition rules for independent presidential candidates.
The Vermont legislature approved H.681, which removes petitioning requirements for the year 2020, requires ballots to be sent by mail to all registered voters and implements other social distancing measures to protect the health, safety, and welfare of voters, elections workers, and candidates.
State Green parties in Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Virginia have also asked for relief from petitioning requirements.
NEWS ARTICLES FOR REFERENCE:
Libertarian, Green parties sue over Illinois election rules, Anzel, Rebecca. Daily Journal, Capitol News IllinoisI, April 8, 2020
Lawsuit: Ease requirements for third parties in Georgia amind Coronavirus, Niesse, Mark. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 27, 2020
Governor Murphy: Extend Democracy To The Green, Libertarian, Socialist Parties and All Independent Candidates During This Crisis, Insider NJ, April 7, 2020
A blog list of articles on the issue: https://www.gp.org/coronavirus