Arguing that their access to the general-election ballot is being improperly restricted, the Libertarian Party and other minor parties, candidates and voters filed a federal lawsuit Thursday seeking to block Texas laws requiring petition signatures to be gathered in a relatively short amount of time.
Those requirements and others impose severe financial burdens on independent candidates and minor parties that Republicans and Democrats do not face, according to the lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Austin.
“For the last 50 years, the State of Texas denied voters their right to cast their votes effectively by enforcing a statutory scheme that guarantees ballot access to the two oldest and largest political parties at taxpayer expense, while imposing ever-greater burdens on their potential competitors,” the lawsuit said.
Joining the lawsuit were the Green Party, Constitutional Party, America’s Party and six independent candidates or supporters of the minor parties, including Mark Miller, a Hays County resident who ran for the Railroad Commission as a Libertarian in 2014 and 2016.
“We filed this lawsuit to restore and protect the right of all Texas voters to cast their votes effectively for the candidates of their choice,” Miller said in a written statement. “We represent a wide range of political views, but one point on which we all agree is that every citizen has an equal right to participate in Texas elections.”
Marc Rylander, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office will defend the laws, said the regulations have stood the test of time.
“We look forward to successfully defending Texas’ reasonable and longstanding ballot-access measures in court,” Rylander said.
State law offers three paths for candidates to land on the general election ballot:
• Political parties that received at least 20 percent of the vote in the previous election for governor nominate their candidates for state and county office and the U.S. Congress via primary elections, with the winners advancing to the general election.
“Since at least 1900, only the Democratic Party and Republican Party have qualified,” the lawsuit said.
Major-party candidates pay filing fees ranging from $75 to $5,000 or by submitting petitions with 5,000 signatures for statewide office. The law does not set a time limit on when they can begin collecting those signatures, the lawsuit said.
• Minor parties must nominate general-election candidates at a convention where participants equal at least 1% of the number of Texans who voted for governor in the prior election — or 83,717 participants in 2020.
No minor party has met the 1% requirement in at least 50 years, the lawsuit said, but Texas law allows candidates to collect voter signatures within a 75-day window to make up the difference.
The tight deadline and limits on who may sign the petitions — registered voters cannot sign if they voted in a recent primary, attended another party’s convention or signed another party’s nominating petition for the same election — put minor-party candidates at a significant disadvantage, the lawsuit said.
• Independent candidates are allowed on the general election ballot if they collect petition signatures equal to 1% of the voters in the previous gubernatorial election.
Petitions cannot be circulated until after the major parties hold a primary or primary runoff election, meaning candidates could have 114 days, or as little as 30 days, to collect signatures, the lawsuit said.
“This uncertainty alone imposes a significant burden that chills potential candidacies,” the lawsuit said.
Having to collect about 80,000 valid signatures by hand can cost $600,000, largely to hire people to circulate petitions, the lawsuit said.
The result is an election scheme that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for candidates who are not wealthy to participate in the political arena, said Oliver Hall, a lawyer with the nonprofit Center for Competitive Democracy, which worked on the lawsuit without charge along with the Shearman & Sterling law firm, which has an office in Austin.
“We think the federal courts will recognize that Supreme Court precedent prohibits Texas from limiting participation in its electoral process to those with financial means,” Hall said.