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Tennessee Ballot Ruling Goes to the Sixth Circuit

Posted in News and Analysis

On March 13, 2012, the Attorney General of Tennessee, acting on behalf of the State’s Secretary of State and Coordinator of Elections, appealed to the Sixth Circuit in an election dispute underway in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.  See Green Party of Tennessee, et al. v. Hargett (M.D. Tenn. Case No. 11-cv-692).  At issue on appeal will be a recent order in which the district court found unconstitutional several sections of Tennessee’s voting statutes.

In the case below, the Green Party of Tennessee and the Constitution Party of Tennessee jointly filed a Section 1983 action, alleging that, based upon a facial challenge, certain of Tennessee’s voting laws placed an unconstitutional burden on, and resulted in effective exclusion of, minor political parties seeking to obtain party recognition and ballot access in the State.  In particular, the plaintiffs alleged that the specific requirements of these voting laws: 1) imposed insurmountable burdens for minor parties to qualify as “Recognized minor parties” (Tenn. Code Ann. 2-5-101(a), 2-1-104(a)(24) & 2-3-107(a)); 2) imposed unconstitutionally vague requirements for qualifying as a “Recognized minor party” (Tenn. Code Ann. 2-1-104(a)(24)); 3) established an impermissibly short (119-day) petition deadline for minor parties to obtain ballot access (Tenn. Code Ann. 2-5-101(a)(1)); 4) impermissibly require minor parties to nominate their candidates by primary elections (Tenn. Code Ann. 2-13-202); and 5) impermissibly award preferential ballot position to majority parties (Tenn. Code Ann. 2-5-208(d)(1)).

On February 3, in a lengthy opinion (PDF), writing for the district court, Judge William J. Haynes, Jr. found on behalf of the plaintiffs as to each cause of action.  Among other relief ordered by the district court, Tennessee was enjoined from enforcing the primary-selection requirement for minor parties, and the State was ordered to assign ballot position between minor and major parties based upon a random draw.

This challenge to Tennessee’s voting laws is among the many election-year voting issues that are currently underway and doubtlessly are yet to be filed in the States over which the Sixth Circuit has purview and, indeed, in the United States generally.  The Sixth Circuit appeal can be followed at Green Party of Tennessee, et al. v. Hargett (6th Cir., Case No. 12-5271).