Arizona ballot
Associated Press

A federal judge has rebuffed a last minute — and untimely — bid by the Arizona Green Party to get itself and its candidates on this year's ballot.

Judge Neil Wake said Robert Barnes, the attorney for the party, provided no evidence that the Feb. 27 deadline to submit signatures to qualify imposes a severe burden.

Wake did not dispute the allegation that the deadline — six months before the primary — may be one of the earliest in the country. But he said that other minor parties have managed to comply.

The judge also noted that Assistant Attorney General Michele Forney, representing Secretary of State Ken Bennett, laid out all the things that need to be done in that six months, including not just verifying the names on petitions but also providing information for candidates on how many signatures they need to qualify to run in the primary. Wake said Barnes presented no evidence that the 180 days was not necessary.

The ruling is not going to be the last word. On Monday Barnes asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court to intercede.

But the chances of the Green Party getting on the ballot this year are fading fast. In fact, the briefing schedule set Monday by the appellate court does not even present an opportunity for the case to be argued before the end of September, a month after the primary.

State law says parties can keep their ballot status if their gubernatorial candidate gets at least 5 percent of the vote. Failing that, their registration must be two-thirds of 1 percent of total registered voters.

The last voter count in 2013 had just 5,601 Green Party registrants, only about a quarter of what it needed. So Bennett declared them ineligible for the ballot.

The law, however, does allow a party to re-qualify with a petition drive, gathering 23,041 valid signatures by the Feb. 27 deadline. Unable to meet that, the party sued.

In his 12-page ruling, Wake said the state's requirements for a party to get actual votes, have sufficient registrants or gather signatures is proper.

“Arizona has the undoubted right to require candidates to make a preliminary showing of substantial support in order to qualify for a place on the ballot,” Wake wrote. “It is both wasteful and confusing to encumber the ballot with the names of frivolous candidates.”

The judge said those restrictions prevail unless a party shows they create a “severe burden.” To prove that, Wake said, a challenger has to show the requirements "seriously restrict the availability of political opportunity.''

He said the Green Party's effort falls short.

For example, he said, there was nothing to show that the February deadline increases costs in gathering signatures. Potentially more significant, Wake noted that, despite the burdens, both the Libertarian and Americans Elect parties have managed to qualify — as has the Green Party in prior years.

Anyway, the judge said, it's not like the problem is permanent.

Wake noted that by the time the case came to his court earlier this month, Barnes said they had finally gathered more than 27,000 signatures. The judge said that leaves the party plenty of time to file to regain ballot status for the 2016 election.

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