GREENBELT, Md. – Third-party candidates trying to establish themselves among a “duopoly” of Republicans and Democrats took a hit Thursday when a U.S. District Court judge upheld a state decision to keep Libertarian Robert Creager’s name off the Nov. 5 ballot.
“A number of cases have clearly stated that states have an interest in regulating elections,” Judge Alexander Williams told a courtroom of Creager supporters wearing and carrying Libertarian, Natural Law and Reform party buttons and brochures.
“This state’s reasonable regulation avoids voter confusion, frivolity, potential voter fraud and general frustration with overcrowdedness,” Williams said.
Maryland law requires third-party candidates to petition themselves onto the general election ballot with signatures from 3 percent of the district’s registered, eligible voters.
Only the Republican and Democratic parties automatically qualify in Maryland for the primary and general election ballots, since at least 10 percent of all registered voters affiliate themselves with each.
Creager, who is challenging Rep. Constance A. Morella, R- Bethesda, for her 8th District seat in Congress, filed a federal lawsuit in August against the State Administrative Board of Election Laws for refusing to place his party and candidacy on the primary and general election ballots.
The hardware engineer from Burtonsville, Md., and his attorney, Leo P. Hylan Jr., argued that the petition requirement under Maryland law is “burdensome, financially extravagant and onerous.”
With about 389,000 registered voters in Montgomery County – which embraces the 8th District – Creager would need to gather about 12,000 signatures. A buffer against possible invalidation of some of those signatures would require an extra 6,000 signatures, Creager said during his testimony.
Jesse Markowitz, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Maryland, testified that such a task would devour 6,000 hours of effort and $30,000.
“We are being penalized because of our beliefs,” Markowitz said after the hearing. “Let me give you an analogy I’ve used with the legislators. Imagine if the Maryland Legislature said all soft drinks except Coke and Pepsi – because they already have a good market – have to pay an extra tax every time someone buys them.
“Imagine how you would feel if you were Snapple. That’s me. I’m not allowed to sell my product, to run my candidates. It’s an extra burden.”
But Williams disputed the weight of that burden.
“I know Montgomery County to be the most populous community, to be a very politically active community,” he said. “To ask for 16,000 to 18,000 votes is not so onerous. And I say you can do it with less than $30,000. I say that because when you all were talking about the signatures collected to recognize the party, I heard the use of the word `unpaid volunteer.’
“It’s not that prohibitive,” the judge added. “You’ve got to work. You’ve got to be active. But it can be done.”
Assistant State’s Attorney General Kathleen Hoke Dachille, who represented the elections board and some of its officials, applauded Williams’ decision.
“The judge did the right thing because the case law was so compelling in support of the Maryland law,” she said. “He gave the Libertarian Party every benefit of the doubt. But at the end of the day, case law from the Supreme Court down supports the Maryland law.” Hylan said he does not plan to appeal Creager’s case. Voters still could select Creager by writing his name onto the ballot. – 30 –