PHOENIX — Absent a federal court order, Arizonans may not get to cast their ballots this year for any Green Party candidates.
Party officials missed Thursday’s deadline to turn in sufficient signatures on petitions to maintain their status as a recognized party, leaving Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and the Americans Elect as the only ones guaranteed to have a place on the ballot.
State law requires a political party to have membership totaling at least 5 percent of the votes cast for governor or president in the most recent statewide election. Based on the 2012 presidential race, the Green Party needed to have 21,499 people registered.
The last voter count in 2013 had just 5,601 Green Party registrants. So Secretary of State Ken Bennett declared them ineligible for ballot status.
That still left the party with a possible opening: Submit 23,041 valid signatures on petitions to requalify for the ballot by Thursday. That did not happen.
An attorney for the party has asked a federal judge for more time.
Legal papers filed in U.S. District Court here claim the Feb. 27 deadline — 180 days before the primary — is illegal.
On one hand, the lawsuit says that date is “one of the earliest deadlines in the country.”
At the same time, Ángel Torres, the party chairman, said the state’s method of computing needed signatures results in an ever-increasing burden. He said the party needed only about 20,000 signatures just four years earlier.
Torres also said two decades ago the deadline was in May. And at that time the Secretary of State’s Office would have to verify all signatures; now all that’s checked is a random sample, something that should take less time to handle, not more.
“The early deadline is unduly burdensome and invidiously discriminatory and not designed to allow a reasonable diligent minor party organization to qualify for the ballot,” wrote attorney Robert Barnes who represents the party in the lawsuit.
Barnes is asking U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake to extend the deadline until June. Torres told Capitol Media Services the party is “very close” now to the number of signatures it needs but wants to build in a cushion in case some are found invalid.
No date has been set for a court hearing.