A federal judge has ruled that the Libertarian Party can proceed with its challenge to a New Hampshire law it claims could prevent its candidates from getting on the ballot.
A third party can have its nominees placed on the New Hampshire general election ballot by winning at least 4 percent of the vote for either governor or U.S. senator in the most recent election or by collecting signatures equal to 3 percent of the total votes cast during the prior election. Under a law that took effect in July, parties can't begin gathering those signatures until Jan. 1 of the election year.
The state argues that the change ensures that signatures on nomination papers are valid, but the Libertarian Party sued, arguing that it would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the party to petition its way onto the ballot.
The state asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, but U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro refused. In a ruling this week, he noted that the right to vote must be balanced against the state's interest in conducting orderly elections, but said whether or not the new restrictions are reasonable depends on factors that have yet to be explored.
"The state offers a number of arguments in favor of dismissal, but none are persuasive," he wrote.
In 2012, the Libertarian Party ran candidates for president, vice president, Congress and several state-level seats after collecting the necessary signatures, but it began the collection process in 2011. For the 2016 election, it would need to collect 14,864 signatures.
"This signature-collection process is like a marathon that's hard enough just to finish, and now the state is essentially demanding that the Libertarian Party run the marathon in less than two hours. This is unfair and unconstitutional," said attorney William Christie, co-counsel on the case along with the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.
Attorneys for the party argue that the time limit also effectively prevents the party from meaningfully participating in the general election because it would have to use its limited resources collecting signatures instead of on campaigning and fundraising.
Assistant Attorney General Laura Lombardi, who is representing Secretary of State William Gardner, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. In court filings, she argued that the new time limits are both nondiscriminatory and reasonable and would impose only a minimal burden on third parties.