A federal judge in Austin has blocked Texas from enforcing a more than century-old state law that requires third-party candidates to collect petition signatures on paper to qualify for a place on the ballot.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled on Monday that the requirement was unconstitutionally applied to minor political parties and candidates. Major political parties are not required to get signatures.
“Texas first adopted that procedure in 1905, and defendants admitted that it has not been significantly updated or improved in the 118 years since,” Pitman said in his order.
The lawsuit was filed in 2019 by four minor political parties: the Libertarian Party of Texas, the Green Party of Texas, America’s Party of Texas and the Constitution Party of Texas.
State law required minor party candidates to obtain 83,717 paper signatures in 75 days.
Under the new order, they can now obtain those signatures electronically.
“I think the most important thing is that Judge Pitman’s order eliminates a major obstacle to free, open and competitive elections in Texas that present voters with meaningful choices at the polls,” Oliver Hall, founder and executive director of Center for Competitive Democracy said.
CCD was joined by Shearman & Sterling, a multinational law firm in representing the plaintiffs in this case.
“Judge Pitman got it right for sure on this one. We’re very pleased that we were able to play a role in it,” David Whittlesey, a partner for Shearman & Sterling’s Austin office said.
Whittlesey added the case was done on a pro bono basis and Shearman & Sterling’s New York and Washington, D.C., offices assisted in the lawsuit.
See here for the background. I know federal lawsuits can take a long time, but four years to an initial ruling, wow. That 83,717 signature threshold was for the 2020 elections, based on 2018 turnout, which as noted was a record-breaker for non-Presidential years. Turnout was slightly down in 2022, but it was still a lot higher than it had been in years before; using the “one percent of the previous Governor’s race turnout” criteria would still require about 81K signatures for 2024 access.
As I said when this was filed, I don’t have any problem with what the plaintiffs were seeking. It’s a reasonable and sensible thing to ask for. I presume there will still be a process to verify the electronically-collected signatures. It’s possible the capacity for fraud is greater this way, but there ought to be ways to check that as well. I don’t know exactly how this will work – perhaps the Secretary of State will have to provide some rules – but I’m not too worried about it. It’s still a lot of sigs to collect, and turnout in both primaries next year ought to be high, so there are still significant barriers in place. How much this ruling helps, assuming it’s not appealed and put on hold in the interim, remains to be seen. Oh, and the fact that we got this ruling while electronic voter registration remains illegal really chaps my hide. That’s a Republican problem and not a Green/Libertarian one, but it still sucks.