Greens win injunction for party recognition

Group's candidates will appear in primary if decision stands

Posted: Sunday, February 12, 2006

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Alaska Green Party:

A judge has granted the Alaska Green Party a preliminary injunction that gives the group the benefits of a full-fledged political party for this year's primary election.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides issued the injunction after hearing the Green Party's argument that the state's requirements for political party status are not tailored to meet the goal of showing that a party has "a significant modicum of support."

A trial on the matter is scheduled for October, but Joannides' injunction would apply to August's primary election.

If the injunction stands, that means the Green Party's candidates will appear in August's primary election and its candidates won't have to go through the petition process to be certified for the ballot.

Green Party elections adviser Jim Sykes said the decision was a victory for his organization, which is considered a political group, not a political party, by the state Division of Elections.

The Green Party has 3,899 registered voters in Alaska, according to Division of Elections data. Democrats number 68,136 and Republicans 114,051, while the majority of Alaska voters are listed as nonpartisan or undeclared.

Alaska Division of Elections Director Whitney Brewster on Friday said the state will comply with the decision.

"If they have candidates who file declarations of candidacy, they will appear on the primary ballots," Brewster said.

Nonparty candidates for statewide office must gather signatures equaling at least 1 percent of the voters who turned out in the previous general election, whereas party candidates are automatically placed on the ballot.

For district offices, the nonparty requirement is signatures from 1 percent of the district's voter turnout to certify a candidate.

Nonparty candidates also do not appear on the primary ballot, which Sykes said is vitally important for the general election.

"The primary serves as kind of a beauty contest for parties to showcase their candidates. If you're not in the beauty contest, you're not even visible to the public," Sykes said.

State law requires a political group's candidate receive 3 percent of the gubernatorial vote to be granted political party status. If there is no gubernatorial election, the 3 percent requirement shifts to the group's U.S. Senate candidate. If there is no Senate election, the 3 percent applies to the U.S. House race.

In 2004, Sykes was the Green Party candidate for Senate and received 3,039 votes, or .99 percent. However, House candidate Timothy Feller received 11,434 votes, or 3.81 percent.

But because the Senate race was the one that mattered, the state determined the Green Party could not be considered a political party.

The Green Party argued that it had met the standard of "a modicum of support" from the voting public to be considered a political party, and that the state's tiered requirement system is legislative tampering that violates the group's equal protection rights.

The state had argued that the court should defer to the Legislature's judgment and uphold its law as long as it is reasonable, according to the injunction.

But Joannides wrote she does not believe the state's claim would hold up as reasonable in a "strict scrutiny constitutional analysis."

"As the Green Party stated in their briefing, a potential political party could actually win the races for U.S. Senate and/or U.S. Representative by more than 50 percent of the vote and still be denied political party status if that race falls on the lower rung of this tiered approach - a year when there is a governor's race. I agree," wrote Joannides.

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