For the first time in more than two decades, Arizonans won’t have the option to vote for a Libertarian Party candidate for governor.
And that’s exactly the way Republican lawmakers designed it.
A law in effect for the first time in a statewide race makes it much harder for candidates of recognized minor parties to get their names on the general election ballot, either through petitions or write-in votes.
Supporters of that 2015 law made no secret at the time that it grew out of fear that Libertarians were siphoning off votes that otherwise would go to Republicans.
Barry Hess, who has been the Libertarian candidate for governor every election since 2002, said the law is based on the flawed premise that members of his party, denied the chance to vote for one of their own, would instead mark the ballot for a Republican. He said without a Libertarian on the ballot, party members generally are more likely to protest by refusing to vote.
But Hess said Libertarians are angered by the maneuvers of GOP lawmakers.
“What you’re going to see is a backlash,” he told Capitol Media Services. “If we’re not on the ballot, we’re going to all vote Democrat. Screw them!”
Prior to 2015, candidates for recognized minor parties could get on the ballot by submitting petitions with the signatures of one-half of 1 percent of those registered with the party. This year for the Libertarians, a statewide candidate would have had to collect around 160 names.
The change pushed through by Republican lawmakers lowers the requirement to one-quarter of 1 percent.
But they engineered it so that the figure was based on all who could sign a candidate’s petition. That added political independents, who outnumber Democrats and run a close second to Republicans, to the base.
So this year, the minimum signature requirement for a Libertarian running statewide was 3,153, about 10 percent of all those registered as Libertarians.
Meanwhile, the numbers needed for Republican and Democratic nominations remained close to what they had been: 6,223 for the GOP and 5,801 for Democrats, both a small fraction of each party’s voter registration.
GOP lawmakers made it clear they hoped to improve the odds for Republican lawmakers who might otherwise lose votes to a Libertarian. They cited 2012 congressional races.
In Congressional District 1, which runs from Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation to the edge of Tucson, Republican Jonathan Paton garnered 113,594 votes against 122,774 for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick.
But Libertarian Kim Allen picked up 15,227 — votes that Rep. J.D. Mesnard contended likely would have gone to Paton.
Similarly, in CD 9, which encompasses parts of Tempe and Phoenix, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema bested Vernon Parker by 10,251 votes, with Libertarian Powell Gammill tallying 16,620.
And to ensure the point was not lost on his GOP colleagues, Mesnard made the issue more personal, warning them that they, too, could find themselves aced out of a seat if they didn’t change the signature requirements.
“I can’t believe we wouldn’t see the benefit of this,” he said during a floor speech.
Hess tried to qualify through write-in votes in last month’s primary for his Libertarian gubernatorial bid this year.
But the same 2015 law required he get at least as many write-in votes as signatures he otherwise would have needed for regular nomination, and he didn’t meet the threshold.
Angel Torres did qualify as Green Party candidate for governor through write-in votes, and he will be on the ballot against Republican Doug Ducey and Democratic challenger David Garcia.
Hess said if there is a need for a minimum signature requirement — a point he does not concede — the number “should be low to accommodate an open field.”
“What they’re trying to do is shut the field down completely, to win by exclusion,” he said.
Now, Hess said, there will be a “concerted effort” by Libertarians to throw their support to Democrats in protest.
“And they are our worst enemies, for crying out loud,” he said.
Legal challenges by the Libertarians have come up empty.
In a ruling last year, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell said the new hurdle is not “unconstitutionally burdensome.”
The case now awaits a hearing in federal appeals court.