Challenging Restrictive Ballot Access Laws on Behalf of the Independent Candidate


As of April 24th, the date that John Anderson decided that he was an independent candidate, there were three kinds of barriers to getting onto the primary ballots. The most pressing problem was that there were five states in which the deadlines for filing petition signatures for independent candidates had expired. The most immediate order of business, therefore, was to institute lawsuits in those five states and to have their filing deadlines declared unconstitutional.

The second set of problems involved the possibility that a host of laws in different states might be asserted against Anderson to keep him off the ballot. These laws, known as “disaffiliation laws,” required that an independent candidate have taken some affirmative action either to declare himself independent or to resign or disaffiliate himself from any political party some length of time before entering an electoral race. “Sore loser”laws, which were in effect in many states, prohibited a candidate who had run in a primary and lost from then switching tracks and trying to get on the ballot as a third party or as an independent candidate.

The third type of problem faced by Anderson involved state laws which had elaborate requirements regarding petition signatures, geographical distribution, the form of petitions, and so forth. The most outrageous example was a West Virginia requirement that people who sign petitions indicate the magisterial district in which they reside. The problem was that there was absolutely no way to tell from state law, practice, court records, or anything else what the boundaries of West Virginia’s magisterial districts were. These districts had basically gone out of existence. We were lucky enough to join the Libertarian Party in a suit challenging this requirement in the state supreme court. The court overturned the requirement, and we got on the ballot there.

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