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4th Circuit rejects Virginia ballot access provision

(AP) Virginia’s law prohibiting out-of-state residents from circulating petitions for third-party presidential candidates is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled May 29.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney’s ruling last year that the residency requirement is an impermissible restraint on political speech.

The Libertarian Party of Virginia and Pennsylvania professional petition circulator Darryl Bonner challenged the provision, which is part of a state law that says any political party that fails to get 10 percent of the vote cast in either of the last two statewide elections must submit petitions containing at least 10,000 signatures to get a presidential candidate on the general election ballot.

At least 400 signatures must be from each of the state’s 11 congressional districts.

Lawyers for the state Board of Elections argued that without the law, it would be too difficult to prosecute nonresident petition circulators who commit election fraud.

The plaintiffs did not dispute that the state has a compelling interest in combatting voter fraud but said it was required to impose the least restrictive alternative. One such solution, they said, would be requiring out-of-state circulators to sign an agreement to comply with any civil or criminal subpoena.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a North Dakota provision similar to Virginia’s, but other federal courts have endorsed measures like the one proposed by the Virginia plaintiffs. The Richmond-based appeals court also liked the idea.

“Simply stated, the Board has produced no concrete evidence of persuasive force explaining why the plaintiffs’ proposed solution, manifestly less restrictive of their First Amendment rights, would be unworkable or impracticable,” appeals court Judge Robert King wrote.

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