Alaska Libertarian Party sues to get presidential ticket on state ballot

A voter takes her time choosing candidates for Juneau’s Municipal Elections on Tuesday, October 1, 2019, in Juneau. The Alaska Libertarian Party filed a federal lawsuit on June 3 seeking to put its presidential ticket on the state’s general election ballot. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

The Alaska Libertarian Party has filed a federal lawsuit against state elections officials.  The party wants its presidential candidate to appear on the general election ballot. 

The party and its chair, Jon Watts of North Pole, sued state Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer in the U.S. District Court for Alaska. The party and Watts said it is unconstitutional to require the party to meet the state’s legal requirements for gathering signatures, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Watts said it’s been too hard to get signatures this year. 

“When you’re out sitting in front of a grocery store and everybody’s wearing masks — I mean, having a smile to greet people and they’ll sit there and talk with you for a minute, was really strictly prohibited with the social distancing initially,” he said.

State law allows parties ballot access if they get 3 percent of the vote in the most recent statewide general election, if 3 percent of the state’s voters are in their party or if they gather signatures equal to 1 percent of the votes cast in the most recent presidential election. 

Since the party didn’t clear the first two bars, they must get signatures. 

They need 3,212 signatures. And they’ve hired a signature gatherer, Scott Kohlhaas. The lawsuit said the party would usually get 1,000 signatures per week, but recently gathered only 149 in roughly two weeks. 

The party recently chose its ticket: Jo Jorgensen for president and Spike Cohen for vice president. 

Watts said the ballot access should be a constitutional right. He said the state’s response is an example in favor of his party’s limited-government approach. 

“It’s interesting that government at all levels can suspend actual constitutional rights — the freedom to assemble and do various other things relative to our Bill of Rights,” he said. “However, when it comes to some slack allowance for ballot presence relative to this COVID: ‘Oh, we can’t change the rules for that.’”

The state did allow the party to gather signatures online, but Watts said the courts should allow the Libertarians and other third parties to have their candidates go directly onto the ballot. 

The state Department of Law didn’t respond to a request for comment by this story’s deadline. 

Libertarians have a history of receiving more votes in Alaska than in most other states.

Four years ago, Libertarian Gary Johnson received nearly 6 percent of the vote in Alaska, his third-highest share in the country, after New Mexico and North Dakota. 

The same year, Joe Miller received 29 percent of the vote in the U.S. Senate election.

But the party’s candidate for governor, Billy Toien, received less than 2 percent of the vote in 2018. 

Green Party of Alaska secretary Robert Shields said his party also is concerned it won’t be able to get enough signatures for its candidate to be on the ballot. The party hasn’t picked a candidate.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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