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Federal judge strikes down Virginia third-party candidate election law

The US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] on Monday struck down [decision, PDF] a state law [text] that prohibited out-of-state residents from circulating petitions for third-party candidates. Virginia law requires that candidates from parties that did not receive at least ten percent of statewide votes in a recent election to obtain a petition with 10,000 valid signatures in order to appear on a future ballot. The law had required that individuals circulating petitions for these candidates be residents of Virginia. Judge John A. Gibney ruled that the Virginia statute limited political speech and was subject to strict scrutiny. Gibney found that the law was too restrictive on speech and was not narrowly tailored to the state's goals:

The First Amendment places a premium on political speech, particularly speech about political change. The drafters fashioned the First Amendment "to ensure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people." By imposing a state residency requirement on petition circulators, the board denies non-residents of means to engage in core political speech available and reduces the quantity of such speech available to its residents. This deprivation directly infringes upon the Constitutional rights of candidates, voters, petition-circulators, and political parties.
The lawsuit was brought by the Libertarian Party of Virginia (LPVA) [party website]. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia [advocacy website] filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs.

Minority parties in the US have mounted legal challenges to allegedly discriminatory legislation in the past. In 2009, a federal court ruled that a Connecticut campaign finance law discriminated against minor party candidates [JURIST report] in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 held [JURIST report]] that state rules on participation in Ohio's primary elections make it prohibitive for minority parties to be included on the ballot. The court ruled that the requirement that parties must file petitions with signatures 120 days before the election "have a negative impact on minor parties and on political activity as a whole in Ohio" by violating the First Amendment and imposing "a severe burden on the associational rights of the [Libertarian Party of Ohio], its members, and its potential vote-supporters."

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