Judge won’t kick disputed Arizona Green Party ’sham candidates’ off November ballot

By Jonathan J. Cooper, AP
Thursday, September 9, 2010

Judge: AZ Green Party candidates to stay on ballot

PHOENIX — Nine disputed Arizona Green Party nominees, labeled “sham candidates” because they were allegedly recruited by Republicans to syphon away support for Democrats, can stay on the November ballot, a federal judge ruled late Thursday.

U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell denied a Green Party request for a temporary restraining order.

He wasn’t persuaded the Green Party was likely to succeed on the merits of its case. And he said the potential harm to the party doesn’t significantly outweigh the harm that would be done to candidates if they were removed from the ballot.

But the judge also refused to dismiss the case, and he left open questions about the constitutionality of a little-known provision in state law that applies only to the Green Party. The provision allows people in some cases to become a Green Party nominee with a single write-in vote.

Campbell issued his ruling less than 12 hours before a deadline for the state’s largest county to finalize ballots for printing. He asked lawyers to file memos by Monday with their suggestions on how the case should proceed. If he ultimately rules in favor of the Green Party, the candidates’ names would still appear on the ballot.

The Greens say nine of their 16 nominees were placed on the ballot “to mislead voters and rig the election process.”

Democrats worry the Green Party nominee would be a tempting option for liberal voters who might otherwise support the Democrat. Greens say the disputed nominees are “hijacking” their party.

Some of the challenged candidates are seeking seats in Congress and the state Legislature. Others are running for state treasurer or for a seat on the corporation commission, a five-member board that regulates utilities.

Green Party officials say the law allowing people to become Green nominees with a single write-in vote treats the party differently than major parties and forces the Greens to associate publicly with people who don’t represent their values and beliefs.

But Campbell found that even major parties sometimes nominate candidates who are opposed by party leadership.

“Candidates often run for office as members of particular political parties whose views they do not wholly embrace,” he wrote.

Lawyers for the state and several counties argued the Green Party waited too long to file its case. They said party officials knew in July that the candidates were seeking write-in nominations and should have challenged them then.

Laurence Tinsley, a lawyer representing six counties, called the lawsuit “extremely unfair to our elections officials who now have to deal with this.”

But Campbell determined the case wasn’t unreasonably delayed.

Green Party lawyer Keith Beauchamp said the party filed its lawsuit as quickly as it could, and that it would have had to wait until election results were officially canvassed on Tuesday anyway.

Elections officials in the state’s two largest counties said the names on the ballot must be solidified by Friday morning in order for them to meet legal deadlines for mailing absentee ballots to military and overseas voters.

Maricopa County elections director Karen Osborne said after the hearing that her county has already delayed ballot printing at a cost of $1 million but can’t delay beyond 7 a.m. Friday. After that time it would be impossible to meet a legal deadline to mail ballots to overseas voters, Osborne said.

Democrats on Wednesday filed a separate challenge in state court asking that the disputed nominees be removed the ballot.

Steve May, a former Republican state lawmaker running for the Arizona House, acknowledges he helped some of the disputed candidates get on the ballot. He insists he’s just trying to help them get their voices heard.

“This is how democracy works,” May said. “Anybody can run for office.”

May, 38, lives and frequently hangs out near downtown Tempe’s Mill Avenue — a commercial corridor near Arizona State University with an odd mix of chain restaurants, local bars and bohemian culture. His recruits are drifters who also like to hang out on Mill.

The shunned nominees don’t like being labeled sham candidates. They insist they’re real people with tangible concerns and a legitimate desire.

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