Secretary of State: Libertarians free to run for office in N.H.

  • New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner watches at left as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts after filling out his filing papers to be on the nation's earliest presidential primary ballot, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015,at The Secretary of State's office in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Published: 6/8/2016 5:52:45 PM

Amid a legal battle over third-party access to the general election ballot, several Libertarians plan to run in New Hampshire races this year.

Secretary of State Bill Gardner said third-party candidates have filed declarations of intent this month to run for president, U.S. Senate, governor and local races.

The candidates must collect the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot.

“It’s the way to demonstrate you have enough people that would like to see you on the ballot,” Gardner said.

But for the Libertarian Party as a whole to appear alongside Democrats and Republicans – enabling the same sort of straight-ticket voting – they’re required to collect far more signatures than individual candidates, nearly 15,000 in all.

That requirement, and the new state-imposed deadline for doing so, is the rub of an ongoing legal dispute.

The Libertarian Party of New Hampshire urged a federal appeals court Monday to strike down a state law it says could prevent third-party candidates from getting on the general election ballot.

To get on the ballot, a third party must collect an amount of signatures equal to 3 percent of the total votes cast in the prior election.

Libertarians sued Gardner after a 2014 law put new limits on how long third parties have to collect the necessary signatures.

Instead of 21 months, third parties now only have seven months to collect signatures, and they can’t begin until Jan. 1 of the election year, William Christie, an attorney for the Libertarians, told the three-judge panel in Boston.

“This law is an unconstitutional infringement on the ability of a third party to obtain access to the general election ballot,” Christie said.

The state argued the law provides ample time to collect signatures. Senior Assistant Attorney General Laura Lombardi said shorter time periods for collecting signatures have been upheld by other courts.

“Seven months is clearly a reasonable amount of time,” Lombardi told the court.

Lombardi cited an August ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro, which upheld the law, finding that it creates reasonable restrictions that are justified by the state’s interest in requiring parties to demonstrate a sufficient level of support.

Christie said the new limits place a burden on third parties to squeeze collecting signatures, fundraising and campaigning into a compressed timeframe in the middle of the general election season.

In 2012, the Libertarian Party met the requirement and ran candidates for president, vice president, congressional seats and several state-level seats. The new law was not yet in effect, so the party was able to begin the collection process in 2011.

For the 2016 election, Libertarians would need to collect roughly 14,800 signatures.

The appeals court did not immediately rule on the Libertarian Party’s challenge to the new law.

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