On The Front Lines
Rutherford Institute Files First Amendment Lawsuit Challenging Discriminatory Election Laws that Favor Major Party Candidates over Independent, Minor Ones
RICHMOND, Va. — Alleging that Virginia’s signature and ballot placement election laws favor major party candidates for political office, while discriminating against minor party and independent candidates, The Rutherford Institute has filed a First Amendment lawsuit in federal district court against the State Board of Elections (SBE). Institute attorneys have asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to strike down Virginia’s law requiring Democrat and Republican candidates to be given the first and higher spots on ballots, thereby giving them an unfair advantage over other candidates, as well as requiring minor party and independent candidates to obtain numerous signatures in order to be listed on election ballots while exempting Democrat and Republican candidates. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, several Libertarian Party candidates and an independent (non-party) candidate for public office in the November 2014 general election.
“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. “While 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 political backing to get on the ballot. Ensuring a level playing field for all candidates for public office will hopefully 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 Cravens & Noll, P.C. is assisting The Rutherford Institute in representing the Plaintiffs in the case.