Four years after the Libertarian Party of Tennessee filed its first lawsuit to get on the ballot, the group is still fighting for access in a state that has some of the most restrictive rules in the country for smaller political parties. Since 2010, the Libertarians, the Green Party of Tennessee and the Constitution Party of Tennessee have been in near-constant litigation with the state. They have won several victories, and the legislature has changed the law slightly. But the parties say the hurdles for them to get their names on the ballot are still unreasonably high. A 2010 federal court ruling in one of the cases stated that Tennessee was one of only two states where no third parties had qualified for the ballot over the previous decade. Individual candidates can appear on Tennessee’s ballot simply by submitting a petition with 25 signatures, but they will appear as independents unless their parties have qualified to appear on the ballot as well. For a party to appear on the ballot, it must collect more than 40,000 signatures. If the party wants to stay on the ballot, one of its candidates must garner more than 80,000 votes.
A recent opinion from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in one of the cases says the ease with which an independent candidate can get on Tennessee’s ballot undermines the state’s argument that too many parties could result in voter confusion.
“It is a puzzling proposition that voters should be less confused by a ballot listing numerous candidates without a party designation than by a similar ballot including party designations.” The court goes on to say that a ballot with party designations “at least, contains information helpful to distinguishing among lesser-known candidates.”
Donn Janes, vice-chair of the Libertarian Party of Tennessee, said he believes the major parties intentionally make it difficult for minor parties. “Libertarians would erode some of the voter base for the Republican party,” he said. “I can see why they would want to keep us off the ballot.”