Saying their petition drives have stalled amid the governor’s stay-at-home directive, Maryland’s Green and Libertarian parties are seeking a federal court order suspending the state’s requirement that they collect thousands more signatures in order to place their candidates’ names on November’s general election ballot.
In papers filed in U.S. district court Tuesday, the parties stated that Gov. Larry Hogan’s order and the resulting cancellation of major gatherings this spring and summer make it virtually impossible for them to garner the required 10,000 signatures, thus violating their constitutional rights to free speech and political association.
The parties added that the state’s allowance for online petition drives and the submission of electronic signatures does not remedy the alleged First Amendment harm.
“The prime venues for collection of petition signatures historically have been large gatherings, such as fairs, festivals and sporting events, during warm weather months,” attorneys for the parties stated in their joint filing in federal court in Baltimore.
“Since March, all such events have been canceled in Maryland and none are scheduled to resume until after Aug. 3, 2020,” added the lawyers, H. Mark Stichel and Oliver B. Hall. “The ability to submit electronic signatures is no substitute for in-person solicitation.”
The attorneys stated that Hogan’s easing last week of his COVID-19 stay-at-home order does not alleviate the parties’ difficulty of gathering signatures, because restrictions in Baltimore city and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have not been relaxed amid the pandemic.
Stichel, the Green Party’s counsel, is with Astrachan Gunst Thomas PC in Baltimore. Hall, the Libertarian Party’s attorney, is with the Center for Competitive Democracy in Washington.
The parties stated in their complaint that they seek a court order requiring Maryland to place their candidates on the November ballot so long as each party submits to the Board of Elections petitions with the valid signatures of at least 1,000 registered Maryland voters by Aug. 3.
Both parties added they have likely reached that number already, with the Green Party saying it has about 5,000 signatures and the Libertarians claiming about 3,000 signatures, subject to the Board of Elections’ approval.
Neither representatives of Hogan nor of State Board of Elections Administrator Linda H. Lamone immediately returned telephone messages Wednesday seeking comment on the lawsuit, in which the state leaders are named defendants.
State law requires the Green and Libertarian parties to garner 10,000 signatures each to regain status as a Maryland political party. They lost state party status in 2018 when their respective candidates for the highest office on that year’s ballot – governor — failed to receive at least 1 percent of the vote. Fewer than 1 percent of Maryland’s registered voters were affiliated with the Green or Libertarian parties as of Dec. 31, 2018.
The case is Maryland Green Party et al. v. Larry J. Hogan Jr., governor of Maryland, and Linda H. Lamone, state administrator of elections, No. 1:20-cv-01253-ELH.
A change in the required number of signatures would mark the latest COVID-19-compelled alteration in this year’s election season in Maryland. In March, Hogan ordered that the state’s primary election moved from April 28 to June 2 and be conducted by mail to prevent the spread of the virus at polling places.
Other states that moved their primaries due to COVID-19 concerns, including Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio.
By contrast, Wisconsin’s Republican-led legislature blocked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ bid to have that state’s April 7 primary election conducted by mail to contain the virus. The Wisconsin Supreme Court then blocked Evers’ effort to postpone the primary until June, compelling the state’s voters to go to the polls as originally scheduled.