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Libertarians sue Alabama claiming discrimination against third parties


For the two major parties in Alabama, getting a list of registered voters is relatively easy. Just ask for it, and it’s free.

But for third parties, like the Libertarian Party of Alabama, getting a list like that costs money — about $34,000, or one cent a name.

A credit or debit card fee adds an additional $850.

For any political party, a list of registered voters is a near necessity, and the Libertarian Party says the costs, for them, are massive and unfair.

At least, that’s what they allege in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday against Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, which alleges state discrimination against minor parties like theirs that are trying to get ballot access.

“Having a copy of Alabama’s statewide voter registration list provides a distinct advantage to any political party trying to obtain access to the ballot in Alabama and trying to transmit its political message to Alabama voters in order to obtain their support for ballot access, increase their ability to associate with others who share their political philosophy and goals and, ultimately to obtain additional votes,” the lawsuit reads.

It’s already hard for minor parties to get on the ballot. For access to the statewide ballot, say, for a position like senator in 2020, they have to collect nearly 52,000 signatures.

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Charging for the registered voter list is “just one more obstacle Alabama places in the way of minor parties to try to prevent them from growing and to gaining access to the ballot.”

Once a major party is on the ballot, it’s relatively easy for them to stay on the ballot. If a candidate is able to garner 20 percent of the vote in a statewide race, then their party stays on the ballot without having to gather signatures the next time around.

The libertarians are far from reaching 20 percent of the vote, so they must collect signatures on a petition every time they want to run.

The lawsuit says Alabama law “unconstitutionally discriminates between major political parties and minor political parties, in an effort to, and with the direct effect of … creating obstacles which make it more difficult for a minor political party like the LPA to establish itself and grow, garner support, gain access to the ballot in Alabama, and obtain votes in order to grow and have its members and followers hold public elective office.”

Recent court decisions in Georgia and Michigan have given libertarians hope that they could succeed in federal court. Lawsuits in those states ruled ballot access barriers unconstitutional.

The lawsuit is asking the court to overturn the law and issue an injunction prohibiting the secretary of state from enforcing the statutes in question.


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Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.



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