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ACLU challenging residency requirement on candidate petitions

The ACLU Voting Rights Project and the ACLU of Virginia today filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Virginia law that imposes a state residency requirement on persons who circulate ballot petitions for presidential candidates who are not members of major political parties.

“Circulating petitions for candidates is at the core of our constitutionally protected right to free speech,” said Katie O’Connor, staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project in Atlanta. “By limiting the right to circulate petitions, Virginia’s law infringes on the First Amendment right of political parties, petition circulators, candidates and Virginia voters.”

The ACLU represents the Libertarian Party of Virginia and Darryl Bonner, a Pennsylvania resident who often circulates petitions on behalf of Libertarian Party candidates in other states. Each asserts that the restrictions violate the First Amendment right of free speech and association.

“People from out of state have every right to promote their political ideas in Virginia, and the government has no legitimate interest in preventing them from doing so by circulating petitions,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg.

Virginia Code Section 24.2-543 requires “non-party” presidential candidates who wish to be listed on a general election ballot to gather at least 400 signatures from each congressional district and a total of 10,000 from the entire state.   Individuals are considered to be non-party candidates if they or the organization they represent received less than 10 percent of the total vote cast in either of the two preceding statewide elections. The signatures can only be collected by state residents.

A similar issue arose earlier this year when Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry challenged a related Virginia law imposing state residency requirements on individuals who circulate petitions for presidential primary candidates. In that case, a federal judge said that Perry had filed his lawsuit too late to expect a court remedy, but not before opining that the residency restrictions were likely unconstitutional.

The ACLU is seeking to enjoin the Virginia law so that the Libertarian Party of Virginia can use non-Virginia residents to gather enough signatures for its candidate to appear on the presidential ballot in November. The deadline to collect the required 10,000 signatures is August 24.

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