Government

Iowa Libertarians sue for equal access to state ballot

“I voted” buttons lay in a bowl on the voting machine in Coralville, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
“I voted” buttons lay in a bowl on the voting machine in Coralville, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa Libertarians are challenging an Iowa law they claim puts them at a disadvantage because their candidates must file months earlier than Democrats and Republicans seeking office.

The lawsuit filed in United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Des Moines claims state law violates Libertarians’ rights of association and voting under the First Amendment, and denies them the equal protections guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

The lawsuit names “Paul D. Tate” as the plaintiff, an apparent reference to Iowa Secretary of State Paul D. Pate, the state commissioner of elections. Pate’s office had no comment regarding the suit other than to say the law change did not originate in the Secretary’s office.

The Iowa Libertarian Party and Jake Porter of Council Bluffs, who plans to run for the U.S. Senate, also ask for an injunction barring enforcement of the law and for the state to pay their attorney fees.

The law stems from a change the GOP-controlled Legislature made earlier this year to require candidates nominated by a non-party political organization — often referred to as an NPPO — must file with the state in mid-March of an election year while political party candidates don’t have to file until August.

Under Iowa law, NPPOs are organizations that sponsor candidates, but their candidates did not receive at least 2 percent of the votes cast for president or governor in the previous election. Iowa Libertarians have been recognized as a political party in the past, but their current status is as an NPPO.

“A filing deadline in mid-March imposes heavy burdens on NPPOs,” according to the lawsuit. It will limit NPPOs ability to react to “late-breaking developments in the political landscape, including late-emerging major party candidacies.” It also will hamper recruitment of convention and caucus participants because of uncertainties that arise early in the campaign cycle. Voters, potential volunteers and the media are less interested in elections early in the campaign cycle, the suit claims.

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There is no legitimate state interest in the earlier filing deadline, Libertarians argue, or in treating NPPOs differently from political parties.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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