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VOL. 127 | NO. 157 | Monday, August 13, 2012

Court: Party Names to Appear on November Ballot

BRETT BARROUQUERE | Associated Press

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Tennessee voters will be able to see the party affiliations of candidates listed on the November general election ballot after a federal appeals on Friday cleared the way for the change.

The ruling means that candidates running under the flags of the Green Party and the Constitution Party, as well as Democrats and Republicans, will be identified.

A three-judge panel from the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to temporarily halt a lower court ruling requiring the party affiliation listings, saying Tennessee couldn't show any actual harm that would come from listing them. But the judges did issue a stay to an order requiring Tennessee to hold a random drawing to determine the order that candidates will appear on the ballot.

Katey Culver, co-chair of the Green Party of Tennessee, described the ruling as "exciting" for third parties.

"This is huge for us to know that the candidates they are looking at in name actually have a set of values to go with that," Culver told The Associated Press.

Mark Goins, Tennessee's coordinator of elections, said the ruling will allow the Green Party and Constitution Party to be listed because they were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Any other political party seeking a similar affiliation listing will be turned down, Goins said.

"It doesn't apply to anyone else," Goins said. "It's very specific in that court ruling who we place on the ballot."

In February, U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. ordered the changes after finding Tennessee's law unconstitutional because it was unreasonably difficult for members of third parties to get their names on the ballot. The judge said that third parties should not be required to get 40,000 signatures by April 5 to qualify to be on the ballot. He also said third party candidates have a right to be identified by their party, as opposed to simply being labeled as "independent."

The Tennessee General Assembly altered the ballot access rules not long after Haynes issued his decision. Under the new rules, minor parties do not have to select nominees through a primary election, but may nominate candidates for office by any method authorized by party rules and could file its petition as late as 90 days before the general election. The change took effect in May.

If a party receives about 40,000 votes in a statewide election, under Tennessee law they are recognized and can appear on the ballot in the future.

Attorneys for the state argued that the parties had not shown they were "bona fide" and actually supported political parties and by requiring the affiliation listings, it undercut the state's interest in having only valid political parties listed on the ballot.

The court, in an unsigned opinion, said Tennessee failed to show a "compelling reason" to stop implementation of Haynes' ruling.

State law currently says that a Republican will be listed first because that is the majority party in the General Assembly. The law says that a candidate running as a Democrat will be listed second because it is the party in the minority in the state legislature.

The state has argued in court documents that there is no evidence of voter prejudice toward candidates from minor political parties who aren't placed first on the ballot. The state has also argued that requiring a random drawing to determine whose name appears first would ultimately result in voter confusion.

The Green Party has a slate of a dozen candidates set for the fall election – with candidates for a U.S. Senate seat, five congressional seats and state and local offices. The Constitution Party has put forth a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Goins said the ruling is a "significant change" for Tennessee, which hasn't had a minor party candidate on the ballot since the 1970s.

"It's a unique election cycle. If nothing else, I'm part of history," Goins said. "I'm excited to see the process play out."

Follow Associated Press reporter Brett Barrouquere on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BBarrouquereAP

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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