CCD Wins Judgment Protecting Citizens' Right to Form New Political Parties in Maine
In a major victory for Maine voters and minor parties, a federal court has declared unconstitutional two provisions of Maine law governing the formation of new political parties. Judge Lance E. Walker's November 17, 2021 order struck down the signature requirements that minor party candidates must meet to appear on the primary election ballot, and also the requirement that minor parties voters be unenrolled if the party loses its ballot-qualified status. Taken together, these provisions made it practically impossible for non-wealthy citizens to establish a new political party in Maine. Now they can no longer be enforced.
CCD filed the case, Baines v. Bellows, No. 1:19-cv-00509, in 2019 on behalf of the Libertarian Party of Maine ("LPME") and several LPME members to challenge LPME's disqualification and the unenrollment of its 6,000-plus members following the 2018 general election.
LPME became ballot-qualified under Maine law in 2016 by enrolling more than 5,000 registered members -- an arduous 18-month effort that cost more than $100,000. To remain ballot-qualified, however, LPME was required to enroll another 5,000 registered members, and to ensure that 10,000 LPME members voted in the 2018 general election and each general election thereafter. LPME was also required to nominate its candidates in the primary election, but the primary election ballot access signature requirements were so high that no LPME candidate could meet them. Thus, despite being ballot-qualified in 2016 and 2018, LPME was unable to run any candidates in either election (with one exception). It was therefore disqualified for failing to meet the 10,000-member turnout requirement.
Following its disqualification, LPME's 6,000-plus members were unenrolled, without notice, and effectively classified as independents.
In declaring the unenrollment unconstitutional, Judge Walker wrote, "The act of purging voter enrollment is a punishment in search of a wrong that would make Kafka blush. Aspiring political parties and their adherents ought not have their ballot access be conditioned on the statutory equivalent of pushing rope uphill."
Judge Walker also concluded that Maine's excessive primary election signature requirements "effectively nipp[ed] nascent political movements in the bud." By preventing ballot-qualified minor parties from placing candidates on the primary ballot, and thus excluding them from the general election, Judge Walker wrote, "Maine’s purported grant of ballot access to qualified minor parties shows itself to be ballot access in name only."
"We are pleased that Judge Walker struck down these unreasonable and unjustified provisions, which served only to prevent average Mainers from joining together to form new political parties," said CCD counsel Oliver Hall, who represented the plaintiffs along with CCD Advisory Board member William P. Tedards, Jr. "We look forward to the opportunity to obtain relief that will benefit not only LPME but all Mainers who want more meaningful choices at the polls."
Further proceedings will be held to determine an appropriate remedy for the violation of LPME's and its members' constitutional rights.