The Alaska Libertarian Party lost its recognized party status after the 2018 election, meaning candidates running under the party’s label—including presidential candidates—no longer have automatic access to the 2020 ballot and must gather signatures.
It typically wouldn’t be an insurmountable burden for a reasonably well-organized party but, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this month, the COVID-19 pandemic has made things so “severely burdensome” the Alaska Libertarian Party says its constitutional rights are being infringed.
The group must gather 3,212 signatures for the group to qualify as a limited political party and for its presidential ticket—Dr. Jo Jorgensen and Spike Cohen—to appear on the general election ballot. If presidential ticket garners at least 3 percent of the general election vote, the party would maintain its limited status as a party.
The party began working with petition organizer Scott Kohlhaas, a former Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate, two weeks before filing the lawsuit and the results have not been great. According to the lawsuit, a 3.5-hour signature-gathering effort outside the Eagle River Carrs on May 28 netted 56 total signatures, about half of what they would normally expect.
“People that Mr. Kohlhaas and other petitioners have approached for signatures are appropriately apprehensive to sign a petition in light of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the lawsuit writes, adding, “People have displayed observable cues that they are not comfortable being approached with the outbreak of COVID-19.”
The lawsuit says the Kohlhaas and the Libertarian Party have hired eight other people to collect the necessary signatures.
“The results they have seen have been terrible. They gathered 149 signatures over the last 10 days to 2 weeks,” explained the lawsuit. “In a typical year, they would expect at least 1,000 per weeks for this size team, in this same period. Overall, based on the longtime experience gathering signatures of Mr. Kohlhaas and others, it is over five times as hard together signatures right now, and, the Alaska requirement that is normally moderately burdensome in terms of signature gathering is severely burdensome in light of the circumstances on the ground with COVID-19.”
The state has made a concession to allow the party to gather signatures remotely–by allowing people to print out, sign and return their signatures–but that has also been an uphill challenge but refused to waive the required number of signatures or the deadline for submitting them, arguing that its hands are tied by state law.
According to the lawsuit, that online effort had netted just 50 signatures at the time the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit that was filed on June 3 argues the court should rule the ballot access requirements be ruled unconstitutional under the current circumstances. It doesn’t specifically suggest an alternative metric for candidates to gain access to the ballot, but other cases have either eased the signature threshold, extended deadlines or simply allowed parties that would have had ballot access in the 2018 elections a spot on the 2020 ballot.
In a prepared statement, Alaska Libertarian Party chair Jon Watts said anything less than easing access to the ballot this year would prevent violate the Alaska Constitution.
“I can’t imagine this was their intention, to disregard our Constitutional rights or to force thousands of interactions with voters in this reportedly unsafe environment,” he said. “The state has a reasonable opportunity to provide relief here. If they were to choose not to, it would appear that the only thing being kept safe is a reigning monopoly over the political process, which isn’t good for any Alaskan voter.”