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U.S. District Court Refuses to Enjoin New Mexico’s 3% Petition for Independent Candidates

On August 7, U.S. District Court Judge Martha Vazquez refused to enjoin New Mexico’s 3% petition requirement for independent candidates. As a result, unless there is a quick appeal, only one candidate, a Democrat, will be on the November ballot for Public Education Commission in District Four. The plaintiff, James T. Parker, is an independent candidate and the incumbent. The decision is Parker v Duran, 14-cv-617. The plaintiffs’ main argument had been that there can’t be any state interest in requiring him to submit a 3% petition, when the nominee of a qualified minor party only needs a 1% petition.

Judge Vazquez’ 20-page opinion fails to mention any of the precedents that say it is unconstitutional for a state to require more signatures for an independent candidate than for an entire new party. Those precedents are from the Florida Supreme Court in 1974, a U.S. District Court in North Carolina in 2004, and a U.S. District Court in Alabama in 1990. Instead, she mentioned a 1986 Oklahoma case that said it is constitutional for a state to require more signatures for an entire new party than for an independent candidate, but that is not quite the same thing. She also wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court approved of Texas’ independent candidate petitions of 3% and 5% for local office, but she did not say that Texas capped the number of signatures needed by an independent for district or county office at 500 signatures. If New Mexico capped independent petition requirements at 500 signatures, the plaintiff would have qualified.

Judge Vazquez has a bad record on ballot access. In 2006, when the Libertarian Party sued New Mexico over the requirement that the nominee of a ballot-qualified minor party must submit a petition to be on the general election ballot, she first scheduled a trial, and then one business day before the trial, cancelled the trial and ruled without having heard evidence.

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