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Elections – NC New Party Ballot Deadline Upheld

Pisano v. Strach (Lawyers Weekly No. 14-01-0206, 25 pp.) (Diaz, J.) No. 13-1368, Feb. 27, 2014; USDC at Charlotte, N.C. (Mullen, J.) 4th Cir.

Holding: The 4th Circuit upholds a North Carolina statute that says a political group that wishes to qualify as a new party putting forth a candidate on a general election ballot must file petitions with the state elections board before noon on June 1 in the election year in which the group wishes to participate, and submit a petition to each county board of elections by May 17.

In this appeal, the North Carolina Constitution Party and the North Carolina Green Party and several individual plaintiffs raise an as applied challenge to the petition-filing deadline for the formation of new political parties.

When deciding whether a state’s filing deadline is unconstitutionally burdensome, we evaluate the combined effect of the state’s ballot-access regulations. Here, plaintiffs contend the May 17 deadline prevents them from gathering signatures at the height of the presidential election season.

Election law schemes with modest signature requirements and filing deadlines falling close to or after the primary election are the relevant points of comparison. We, and several of our sister circuits, have found that such schemes do not impose severe burdens. Here, plaintiffs have not shown that North Carolina’s scheme burdens them in any meaningful way. We are not persuaded that the May 17 deadline, considered in the context of North Carolina’s ballot-access scheme, imposes a severe burden on plaintiffs’ ability to form new parties and nominate candidates. To the contrary, because plaintiffs have ample time and opportunity to collect the reasonable number of required signatures, we conclude the burden on plaintiffs is modest.

Because the deadline does not impose a severe burden, we decline to apply strict scrutiny to plaintiffs’ claim. Plaintiffs concede the state’s interest in regulating elections generally, but they argue that its interest in regulating presidential elections is diminished.

We conclude that North Carolina’s choice of a May 17 deadline is reasonable, especially in context. The deadline falls after the state’s May primary and precedes other important deadlines. Notably, the counties need time to verify signatures before the June 1 deadline. And even putting the June 1 deadline aside, North Carolina also requires qualifying new parties to select their nominees by party convention and submit their names by July 1. These deadlines permit the government to verify signatures and prepare the ballot before the November election. Accepting plaintiffs’ argument would require us to overturn all of North Carolina’s pre-election deadlines for new parties. Having determined that the May 17 deadline is reasonable, we decline this invitation.

We hold the May 17 petition-filing deadline is constitutional as applied to plaintiffs.

Judgment affirmed.

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