RICHMOND, Va. - The Libertarian Party is challenging a state law that allows only Virginia residents to circulate petitions to get independent or minor party candidates on the presidential general election ballot, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.
The complaint against the State Board of Elections alleges that the residency requirement in one of the nation's toughest ballot access laws unconstitutionally infringes on the plaintiffs' free-speech and freedom-of-association rights. No hearing date has been set.
"Circulating petitions for candidates is at the core of our constitutionally protected right to free speech," said Katie O'Connor, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of the Libertarian Party of Virginia and Darryl Bonner, a Pennsylvania resident who often circulates petitions for the party's candidates in other states. The complaint asks the court to enjoin the law so the party can use non-Virginia petition circulators to get a candidate on the state's presidential ballot. The deadline for gathering the signatures of 10,000 registered voters, including at least 400 from each of the state's 11 congressional districts, is Aug. 24.
The Virginia attorney general's office, which represents the electoral board, will "vigorously defend the law," spokeswoman Caroline Gibson said.
In a similar case earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry challenged a related Virginia law that imposes the residency requirement for petition circulators in primary elections. Perry filed the lawsuit after failing to submit enough signatures to get on Virginia's Republican presidential primary ballot. Three other GOP candidates failed to qualify, leaving only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul on the Virginia ballot. They also joined the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge John Gibney said the residency requirement is probably unconstitutional, but ruled that Perry filed the lawsuit too late to allow for a remedy that would not disrupt the election. Gibney also will hear the Libertarians' lawsuit, which targets a separate provision that applies to "non-party" presidential candidates. Individuals are considered non-party candidates if they or their organization received less than 10 percent of the total vote cast in either of the two preceding statewide elections.
Rebecca Glenberg, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia, said her clients are challenging only the non-party provision _ not the one at issue in the Perry case _ because that's the one affecting their bid to get on the general election ballot. But she suggested a ruling in the Libertarians' favor could have broader implications.
"One would hope the state would at that point stop enforcing the similar provision," she said.
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