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On The Front Lines

Federal Court Will Not Resolve Discriminatory Election Law Lawsuit in Time for November Elections, Favoring Major Party Candidates Over Independents, Minors

RICHMOND, Va. — Despite The Rutherford Institute’s efforts to challenge discriminatory election laws in Virginia that favor major party candidates while discriminating against minor and independent party candidates, the ongoing lawsuit against the State Board of Elections will not impact this year’s 2014 elections. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has scheduled arguments in the case for December 2014 in order to address a motion by the members of the State Board of Elections to dismiss the Institute’s First Amendment lawsuit, which aims to strike down Virginia’s law requiring that Democratic and Republican candidates be given the first and higher spots on ballots, thereby giving them an unfair advantage over other candidates. The law also requires minor party and independent candidates to obtain numerous signatures in order to be listed on election ballots while exempting Democrat and Republican candidates.

“There was a time in our nation’s history when a person’s vote counted for something more than merely the illusion of participation and when the people’s referendum at the ballot boxes brought about a change in the way government did business. That is no longer the case, thanks in large part to a corrupt political establishment that favors an elitist, two-party system whose primary aim is to maintain the status quo,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “Voting is the very least that we are called to do as citizens. Americans are entitled under the Constitution to elect individuals to office capable of and willing to represent us, rather than being forced to choose from a limited field of individuals with the money and influence to get on the ballot. Ensuring a level playing field for all candidates for public office will help transform our present government by oligarchy—one that is of the rich, by the rich and for the rich—to a government that is truly of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The Rutherford Institute’s lawsuit alleges that Virginia’s signature and ballot placement laws violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by favoring the election chances of Democrat and Republican candidates at the expense of Libertarian Party and independent candidates. Under Virginia’s election laws, a candidate for public office is allowed to be listed on the official ballot printed by the SBE only if the candidate obtains numerous signatures of qualified voters (in the case of a candidate for U.S. Senate, 10,000 signatures). That requirement is waived, however, if the candidate is the nominee of a “party.” Since only the Democratic and Republican Parties have obtained enough votes in previous elections to qualify as a “party,” only those parties’ nominees are exempt from obtaining signatures in order to be placed on the ballot. Additionally, even if a minor party or independent candidate qualifies for placement on the ballot, they are automatically relegated to a position below that of the Democrat or Republican nominee. Virginia law provides that the names of candidates of “parties” for an office are listed at the top of the ballot, while candidates of any other political parties are listed below “party” candidates. Independent candidates are always listed at the bottom of the ballot. In filing suit against the SBE, Rutherford Institute attorneys point to numerous cases and studies showing that candidates listed lower on ballots are placed at a material disadvantage, which harms their chances for election. Affiliate attorney David P. Morgan of Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban is assisting The Rutherford Institute with the case.


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