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Last month the Eleventh Circuit Court issued an opinion in “Libertarian Party of Alabama v. Merrill” (20-13356) and upheld Alabama’s discriminatory policy for access to the list of registered voters.
For you the “everyday Joe” Alabama citizen, the current law, as upheld, prevents legitimate political parties equal opportunities that are provided to the dominant Republican and Democratic parties. This, in turn, limits the abilities of minor parties to equally access Alabama’s voters so as to share a political option outside the “R” and “D” that Alabama limits their tax-payer funded “free” support to. In short, this law limits your options to have someone who may truly represent your political views equal access to support that will help them get on to future Alabama ballots.
Under the current Alabama law, the State of Alabama will give (at no cost) a list of all registered voters to “qualified” parties, as well as to state legislators, the State Administrative Office of Courts and to election officials of other states. The list contains information for every legally registered voter in the state, including their name, address and voting history.
Alabama law states that parties can meet the access requirement either by achieving at least 20% of the entire vote cast for a state officer in the prior general election or by filing a petition with signatures of at least 3% of qualified voters who cast a ballot in the last gubernatorial election. …BUT the State of Alabama charges one cent per voter, or almost $36,000, in order to provide the voter list to “unqualified” parties.
The Libertarian Party claims that the law violates their 14th Amendment Equal Protection Rights and First Amendment Free Speech Rights and that the recent ruling ignores a 1970 case where a U.S. District Court in New York ruled that if the state gives a list of the registered voters free to “qualified parties,” it must also give it to parties that are petitioning to get on the ballot. That decision was later summarily affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The new Eleventh Circuit decision says the 1970 precedent does not control this case, because in New York the list was given to parties that, while not qualified, “had succeeded in gaining a position on the ballot.” In the 1970 New York case, both the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Labor Party had appeared on the New York ballot in 1968 and in previous years; however, the Libertarian Party of Alabama has also gained a position on the Alabama ballot in recent past years.
The recent decision states that in order to give the Libertarian Party a copy of the voter list, an employee of the secretary of state “would have to export the list from a program called PowerProfile; import the data into Microsoft Access; export the data from Access to a text file; and then email the list to the party requesting it. This process would take about fifty minutes and, because of the demands of processing this very large file, prevents the employee’s computer from doing other tasks.”
Alabama Deputy Solicitor General Barrett Bowdre also defended the fees, explaining that officials spend approximately an hour (at $36,000 per hour) compiling the list for parties that request a copy.
Why do a text file when it can easily be made a PDF file, which should shorten the time dramatically?
Montgomery attorney David Schoen countered that the process is a simple matter of pushing a button to send an email. “There is no administrative burden, and any administrative burden would be outweighed by the fundamental Constitutional Right at issue,” and…“as easy as it is to give it, everyone who wants a free list should get it.”
Schoen stated, “The issue in the case is whether it passes constitutional muster for the state to provide its taxpayer-funded, computerized, mandatory statewide voter registration list free of charge to major political parties while charging an exorbitant fee to minor political parties.”
Schoen claimed that the “cumulative effect” of the restriction is harmful to minority parties and unfairly gatekeeps access to an essential tool for voter outreach.
As things still stand today, you the voter are being offered a choice between only a “Left Twix” candy bar or a “Right Twix” candy bar, even though you may prefer something different, like perhaps a Snickers or Reese’s. If you would like more representative options for our state, please support the Libertarian Party of Alabama wherever you may see them at work trying to gain ballot access.