Maine’s Libertarian Party has been reborn.
If the Libs can’t stay alive this time, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
Thanks to rulings by a federal judge in November and early January, the Libertarians will be able to participate in the 2022 election with a reasonable chance to place candidates on the ballot. It remains to be seen if other minor parties will have the same opportunity.
Third parties haven’t had an easy time in Maine. The old rules said that to be listed on the ballot, they had to have at least 5,000 registered members a year before a general election. The Libs managed to accomplish that in 2016 when they topped out at over 6,200 admitted Libertarians. But the law said fledgling parties were required to increase their membership to 10,000 before the next election, a level that proved to be beyond the Libs’ capabilities.
The party, which opposes most government imposition, from the military draft to mask mandates, went to court claiming the election regulations were unconstitutional. That lawsuit is still pending, but while waiting for a resolution, the secretary of state’s office took it upon itself to declare all existing Libertarians were no longer members, rendering them officially unenrolled.
In November, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker overruled that action, and in January, Walker ordered Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to allow former Libs to rejoin their old party. He said cleansing the membership rolls was a step too far because it “imposed on political expression, political association, and equal protection.” Walker ordered Bellows to notify all displaced Libs of their options.
The judge also said Libertarians seeking to get on the ballot could collect signatures not only from their own party members but also from independent voters.
That should be enough to render the Libertarians a real party, just like the Democrats, Republicans, and Green Independents. Except for one slight difference: Walker’s ruling doesn’t expressly grant the other parties the right to gather signatures from unenrolled voters.
That leaves the Greens at a significant disadvantage.
The Green Independents have about 41,000 members or nearly seven times more than the Libs. But it’s been 16 years since a Green qualified to run for statewide office. That’s because it’s almost impossible to collect the required 2,000 signatures from party members to make it on the ballot.
In 2020, Green U.S. Senate candidate Lisa Savage was forced to drop her party affiliation and run as an independent because Green voters were too dispersed across the state to make it practical for her to find them and convince them to sign her petition. Even though Savage had to collect more signatures as an independent – 4,000 – she had an easier time because any registered voter could sign.
This year the Greens are hoping to run candidates for governor and the 2nd Congressional District seat. They’re asking the judge to expand his ruling to include them. They’re also appealing to Bellows to give them the same break the Libs got. Anything less seems unfair and undemocratic.
Also, elections are more fun when they include entertaining wackos.
Such a change hardly means the state will soon be overrun by elected officials from fringe parties. In their entire decades-long existence, the Greens have only managed to run a couple dozen legislative candidates and have elected exactly one.
The Libs did briefly manage to equal the Greens’ legislative success by a different method. In December 2020, GOP state Rep. John Andrews of Paris, one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, switched his party affiliation to Libertarian, making him one of just two Lib legislators in the country.
Earlier this month, Andrews rejoined the Republican Party, telling the Bangor Daily News, “many of my principles are aligned with them.” But Andrews’ real reason might be that in a district leaning heavily to the GOP, having the word “Libertarian” after his name wouldn’t have enhanced his chances of reelection.
All of which seems to indicate the Libs still have a struggle to stay alive.
I belong to the Keg Party, and we’re usually too drunk to sign anything. To join, email [email protected].