Indiana Green Party, Libertarian Party sue state over 'unconstitutional' election laws
In 38 years, there have been only eight successful attempts by minor parties or independent candidates to collect the tens of thousands of signatures required by Indiana law to guarantee a spot in state elections, according to a new lawsuit by the Indiana Green Party and Libertarian Party.
The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, says minor parties and independents face "substantial or severe burdens" because of Indiana's "unconstitutional" rules governing how they can qualify for state races.
By Johnny Magdaleno
March 18, 2022
Among those burdens: the requirement to obtain a number of signatures from registered voters that amounts to 2% of the total votes cast for Indiana secretary of state in the prior general election.
Nine other individuals, including minor party advocates and people interested in running for office, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Indiana among most 'restrictive' states
For prospective candidates who aren't interested in running under major political parties in Indiana's general elections this November, the 2% requirement amounts to 44,935 valid signatures. That number is based on votes in the 2018 election for the office of secretary of state, which oversees elections.
Oliver Hall, a lawyer and founder of the Center for Competitive Democracy who is representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said these requirements are some of the most "restrictive" in the nation.
"Indiana is right up there in the top states for the highest signature requirements," Hall said.
Democrats and Republicans, on the other hand, get their candidates on the ballot through primary elections, which are funded by Hoosiers.
“These separate procedures provide Major Parties guaranteed access to the general election ballot, at taxpayer expense,” lawyers wrote in the lawsuit. No taxpayer funds are used to support minor parties’ attempts to get on a ballot, according to the lawsuit.
The Indiana Office of Secretary of State declined to comment, saying it does not comment on pending litigation.
'Labor-intensive and expensive'
The 2% requirement dates back to changes in election law from 1984. Prior to that, the signature requirement was 0.5% of the secretary of state’s votes in a prior election, according to the lawsuit.
Signatures first have to be pre-verified by county election officials where the petition-signers live. Then they are sent to the secretary of state.
Nomination petitions can't be signed electronically like in Arizona, where registered voters can use an online platform managed by the state.
Indiana says they have to be performed in handwriting, according to Hall.
"In the modern day and age," Hall said, "when you can register to vote in Indiana online, there's really no reason for the state to continue to require candidates and parties to demonstrate the requisite support by going out and finding tens of thousands of voters to sign nomination petitions in person by hand, using this paper-based process."
If those signatures are deemed credible by election authorities, the party gets access to the ballot. Since 1984, lawyers wrote, minor parties and independents have only achieved this eight times.
If a minor party wants to guarantee ballot access for the following election cycle, they have to present a candidate for secretary of state, and that candidate has to get 2% of the vote in the secretary of state race.
This is how the Libertarian Party has been able to stay qualified for state office ballots since 1994. That year, they collected the right amount of signatures. Every year since then, they've successfully presented a candidate for secretary of state who gets 2% of the vote to keep the door open for their party in the next statewide election.
Without a secretary of state candidate who meets that vote count, minor parties have to collect signatures all over again to participate in the next race.
Lawyers called the signature process “time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive" in court documents. This year, minor party political candidates may find themselves relying on paid petition circulators that charge around $7.50 per signature on average in Indiana.
"Based on those rates, and including transportation, signature review and other necessary expenses, a successful statewide petition drive in 2022 will cost a Minor Party or Independent approximately $465,000 – $565,000," lawyers wrote.
Indiana's primary elections are scheduled for May 3 this year, and general elections are scheduled for Nov. 8.