- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland’s highest court has struck down an election rule that has hindered efforts by alternative political parties to get their candidates on ballots.

The Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned the state’s requirement that minor parties first obtain 10,000 voter signatures for recognition as a party. It also struck down a requirement to submit a second nominating petition for each candidate with the signatures of 1 percent of the electorate.

“In our view, the Election Code’s two-tiered petitioning requirement for minor parties discriminates against minor political parties,” the court said.

The ruling opens up the election landscape for alternative parties such as the Green Party, Libertarian Party, Reform Party and Constitution Party. Each successfully petitioned for state recognition in the 2000 and 2002 election cycles.

But getting candidates on the ballot has proved daunting, especially statewide.

In the past 63 years, only two alternative candidates — both gubernatorial hopefuls — have been placed on a statewide, general election ballot. One ran as an independent in 1966; the other as the American Party nominee in 1970. Both lost.

Maryland has restricted ballot access in various ways since 1940. Before that, candidates appeared on statewide ballots representing, among others, the Communist, Socialist, Labor and Prohibition parties.

Frank Dunbaugh, an attorney for the Green Party, described the ruling as “a victory for self-determination.”

The Green Party challenged the rule after a congressional candidate was left off the 2000 ballot in the district that includes Annapolis and the Eastern Shore. The Maryland Board of Elections said the candidate, David Gross, had not obtained enough valid signatures.

The Green Party lawsuit argued that the state requirements stifled competition.

The Board of Elections said it was reviewing the court’s opinion.

“We are certainly taking a close look at it,” said Donna Duncan, director of the board’s Election Management Division.

She said that “from first blush,” the ruling is likely to change “new political party petitioning methods and procedures.”

The court, in a majority opinion written by Judge John C. Eldridge, said the 10,000-signature requirement alone is enough to satisfy the state’s interest in avoiding confusing ballots overloaded with “frivolous” candidates with little popular support.

But in its brief, the state suggested that it was reasonable to ask alternative parties to take a second step to prove they really belong on the ballot.

“Even though the Green Party submitted more than 10,000 valid signatures of Maryland voters who agreed to support the recognition of the party, this does not mean that there are more than 10,000 members of the Green Party in Maryland, or that any particular Green Party candidate will have the support of a significant number of Maryland voters,” the brief said.

Three of the court’s seven judges signed a concurring opinion that agreed with portions of the ruling, but disagreed with the central conclusion that the 1 percent nominating petition should be scrapped.

Under that requirement, minor party candidates must get signatures from 1 percent of the registered voters in the district in which they are running.

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