The Libertarian Party of Connecticut wants Connecticut to stop enforcing its law that says only state residents can collect signatures for candidates seeking to petition their way onto the ballot.
Connecticut law says only Connecticut residents can gather those signatures, but a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Libertarian Party in federal court alleges that the provision is “unconstitutional” and violates its First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit filed by attorney Stanley Twardy of Day Pitney says the Libertarian Party is the third largest political party in the United States in terms of membership and the number of candidates for federal, state, and local office per election.
In Connecticut, candidates representing the party have run in every election cycle from 2010 to 2014 and in six of the last seven cycles a national Libertarian Party candidate has appeared on Connecticut ballots for president and vice president.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in anticipation of the start of the 2016 election cycle. Candidates wishing to get on the 2016 ballot can start collecting signatures starting on Jan. 1, 2016, but the residency requirement is a hinderance, according to the complaint.
If a candidate uses an out-of-state firm to circulate a petition, each of those professional circulators has to be accompanied by a Connecticut resident. The complaint argues that limiting the pool of professional circulators to in-state professionals creates a monopoly for Connecticut professional circulators and decreases the party’s ability to negotiate favorable contract terms.
The complaint also says that out-of-state circulators tend to get better results that generate a “much higher percentage of valid signatures.”
Former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman used an out-of-state firm to help him gather the 7,500 signatures necessary to petition his way onto the 2006 ballot as an independent. Joe Visconti was successful in 2014 in using volunteers to win a spot on the gubernatorial ballot, while Jonathan Pelto, another gubernatorial contender, was unsuccessful that same year.
“The prohibition on non-resident circulators therefore reduces the quality of circulators that the Party may use, which in turn reduces the percentage of valid signatures and increases the cost of securing sufficient valid signatures to place the Party’s candidates on the State’s general election ballot,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit was filed against Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who is Connecticut’s chief election official. Merrill’s office will be represented by the Attorney General’s office who had no comment on the complaint.
“We are reviewing the complaint and will respond at the appropriate time in court,” a spokeswoman in the attorney general’s office said.
The Libertarian Party is seeking declaratory relief and wants the court to stop the state from enforcing its petition circulation law.