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Libertarian Party Files Suit After Ballot Drive Falls Short
The Daily Oklahoman
June 1, 1984
by Judy Fossett
One day after being denied a spot on the 1984 general election ballot, the Libertarian Party of Oklahoma filed suit in federal court Thursday claiming Oklahoma's ballot access laws are unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Lee West of Oklahoma City set a hearing for 9 a.m. Wednesday on the party's motion that the statutes, which went into effect in 1975, be declared illegal.
The party also asks, in the alternative, West order the state election board to give the party 45 additional days to collect signatures on petitions requesting a spot for the party on the November ballot.
Libertarians were denied a ballot spot for their presidential candidate David Bergland and any other local Libertarian candidates when their petition drive fell far short of the required 44,157 minimum.
The drive collected 28,894 names during the 90 days they were allowed to circulate petitions.
Party officials named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim they were hampered by ""42 days of tornadoes, floods, thunderstorms, rainstorms,'' which caused many petitioners to become discouraged enough to quit.
They also allege their petitioners were harassed by officers and employees of police departments and state and city agencies who ""barred or ran off'' name-gatherers.
The party sued in mid-May for an end to the alleged harassment, and U.S. District Judge David Russell ordered an end to interference in public areas of Oklahoma City except in the underground tunnel system. The tunnel was said to be quasi-private property, and Russell reserved a ruling on the tunnel issue.
Three petitioners were arrested and jailed ""for exercising their rights to petition on public property,'' the suit states.
Plaintiffs are Gordon Mobley, state party chairman; Oklahoma ballot drive chairman Charles Burris, who is also party 1st District chairman; Oklahoma County ballot drive chairman D. Frank Robinson; 1st district vice-chairman Anne Wampler; Thomas Winter, party finance chairman, and Bergland.
They allege the current ballot access law replaced one enacted in 1923, which was ""much less restrictive, less drastic and demanding in its requirements and applied equally to all political parties and citizens wanting to exercise their fundamental rights to political expression and associaton.''
The earlier law required only 5,000 signatures on petitions requesting ballot access.
Since 1945, only the American Independent Party in 1968 with George Wallace as its candidate and the Libertarian Party in 1980 have joined the Democrats, Republicans and Independents on the ballot in Oklahoma.
The suit states Oklahoma will be the only state in the country without a Libertarian candidate on the presidential ballot and only one of four states which still disallows write-ins.
Ballots with names written on them are considered mutilated ballots and aren't counted.
Oklahoma ballot access laws are ""the most repressive and restrictive in the entire United States,'' the suit states.
State statutes deny Libertarians the exercise of free speech, the right to assemble, the right to run for office and the right of equal protection, the suit alleges.
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