Fort Smith, Arkansas • Friday, September 14, 2001

Party Put On Election Ballot

By David Robinson

TIMES RECORD • drobinson@donreynews.com

LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge ruled Thursday that a candidate from the Green Party of Arkansas may join the 3rd District congressional race in northwest Arkansas.

After a 25-minute hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. declared an Arkansas election law unconstitutional and ordered Secretary of State Sharon Priest to recognize the Green Party of Arkansas in the Nov. 20 special election.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said the ruling is “a wonderful victory for democracy.”

“It enables people who have a minority viewpoint to express their views and to have those views voted on by the people,” Sklar said. “It also gives the people the opportunity to choose the candidate which represents their interests.”

Attorneys for the secretary of state and attorney general said they’ll wait for Howard’s written ruling before deciding on an appeal.

Sarah Marsh, 25, an architect who lives in Fayetteville, is the Green Party’s nominee and a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the ACLU. She will join a race that has had seven contenders — four Republicans and three Democrats.

The special general election is Nov. 20.

Under existing Arkansas law, it is impossible for new or emerging political parties to get on the ballot in elections that occur in odd numbered years, Marsh argued.

Assistant Attorney General Jeff Priebe said that it was the Green Party’s fault for not going through the signature gathering process required of new parties in advance of general elections, which occur in even-numbered years.

The signatures of 3-percent of the voters in the most recent gubernatorial or presidential election must sign petitions for a party to be recognized by the state.

“They should have known the Arkansas statutory scheme for becoming a recognized party,” Priebe said. “They chose not to.”

Howard responded with a tone of disbelief, asking “How would they have known that (former U.S.) Rep. (Asa) Hutchinson (R-Ark.) was going to resign? Are you saying they should have indulged in conjecture and speculation in a nation of the people, by the people and for the people?”

Priebe said Marsh’s interests do not outweigh that of the state, whose existing law is necessary “to avoid confusion and preserve the democratic process.”

Howard disagreed, saying the state’s interests do not outweigh Marsh’s First Amendment rights, equal protection and due process under the 14th Amendment.

“Consequently, the court is declaring the provision unconstitutional,” Howard said.

Consumer advocate and environmentalist Ralph Nader was the Green Party’s presidential nominee in 1996 and 2000.

The Green Party pledges “to work for human rights, peace, grassroots democracy, social and economic justice and an ecologically sound and sustainable society,” according to its Web site.

Marsh issued a statement read by her campaign coordinator, Ed Tarvin of Elkins, after Thursday’s ruling.

“Both the Green Party of Arkansas and those who have supported my candidacy are pleased that the court has ruled in our favor,” she said in the statement. “We are grateful for the support provided by the ACLU. We look forward to beginning our campaign and giving the voters of the 3rd congressional district a rational alternative in this election.”

Tarvin said Marsh likely won’t crank up her campaign until after the Sept. 25 primary.

He said Marsh won’t take time off her job, and the campaign won’t have the resources of other major party candidates.

Marsh is a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and works for the firm of Maurice Jennings and David McKee in Fayetteville, a firm that succeeds that of renowned architect Fay Jones, Tarvin said.

Ralph Forbes of London, a former member of the American Nazi Party, also tried unsuccessfully last month to file as a third-party candidate of the Freedom Party of Arkansas, which he founded recently.

Sklar said it was unclear to her whether Forbes’ status in the special election would be affected by Howard’s ruling.

Forbes had requested in a letter to Sklar that the ACLU complaint be amended to include the Freedom Party. Sklar said the decision was made not to do so because her organization felt it could settle the issue without the Freedom Party.

“We don’t have the resources to take every client that approaches us,” she said. “It’s a question of getting the issue settled.”


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