A federal judge on Thursday denied the Arkansas Libertarian Party's request for a preliminary injunction that would allow the party to add or substitute nominees for inclusion on ballots for the Nov. 8 general election.
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In a three-page order, U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. noted that Gov. Asa Hutchinson has already granted the party's request to substitute a party nominee for Nathan LaFrance, whom the party nominated in October as its 3rd Congressional District candidate but who later moved out of state and withdrew his candidacy.
The party has sued Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin for enforcing a 2015 law that required the party to hold its nominating convention in October, four months before the Democrat and Republican primaries on March 1. The Libertarian Party said that the early timetable put its candidates at a disadvantage, compared with the major-party candidates, because it didn't allow potential Libertarian candidates as much time to consider running for office and didn't allow the party much of a chance to get to know the contenders before choosing nominees.
As a newly recognized third party in Arkansas, the Libertarian Party was required to nominate its candidates by convention instead of holding a primary election.
"All party candidates had to decide whether they wanted to run for office by the party filing date on Nov. 9, 2015," Moody wrote. "Whether Republican, Democrat or Libertarian, the candidates can suspend their campaigns if they choose, but none of them can choose to get in a race at this late date, with the exception of Mr. LaFrance's replacement."
Moody said that one of the four considerations in deciding whether to grant a preliminary injunction is the plaintiffs' likelihood of succeeding on the merits of the case. He said the probability of that is low in this case, because the plaintiffs -- the party, its chairman and three potential candidates -- "had the opportunity, the ability, and actually conducted their party convention. They nominated candidates for 17 state and local races."
He said Martin's "strong interest in preventing voter confusion by limiting ballot access to serious candidates" also persuaded him against granting a preliminary injunction to allow the substitutions and to prevent Martin from enforcing provisions of the 2015 law that the Libertarian Party is challenging.
Those provisions require only the names of certified nominees, chosen pursuant to the statute, to appear on ballots. They also designate a one-week party filing period beginning on the first day of November before the primary election, require new political parties to nominate candidates by convention for the first general election after certification, and require nominees to file political-practices pledges during the party filing period.
Moody also agreed with Martin's position that even if the plaintiffs eventually win the merits of their case -- they want a finding that the 2015 law is unconstitutional -- he can't order Martin to include Libertarian Party nominees on county election ballots "because the Secretary of State does not have authority to do so."
At a hearing a week ago, attorney A.J. Kelly, who represents Martin and is the deputy secretary of state, argued that the office of the secretary concerns itself only with statewide and presidential races, but the state's county clerks -- who weren't named as defendants -- determine which candidates are placed on ballots for local elections.
Metro on 02/26/2016