On December 29th, the Arizona Green and Libertarian parties filed a lawsuit in the US District Court of Arizona charging that the state’s new voter registration forms violate their First Amendment right to freedom of association and their Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection under the law.
The state’s former voter registration forms included a box prompting registrants to specify their party preference by writing that name in the space provided. In the most recent session of Arizona’s legislature, however, lawmakers changed the design. In the party preference section on the new form, voters are prompted to check one of three boxes: the first is labeled Republican, the second is labeled Democrat and the third is labeled ‘Other.’ Underneath the ‘Other’ label, a small space is provided for registrants to write in the name of their party preference if it is other than Democrat or Republican.
The lawsuit alleges that the form now discriminates against the state’s minor parties by privileging the Democrats and Republicans. “This change has the sole effect of benefiting the Republican and Democratic Parties, and disadvantaging the Libertarian and Green Parties. It suggests the first two options to the future voter, while omitting all mention of the latter parties,” the suit charges.
The suit further states that when plaintiff Steve Lackey, a member of the Arizona Libertarian Party, attempted to register as a Libertarian at the Department of Motor Vehicles, “personnel there refused to allow him to do so, in the belief that “Other” referred to Independent, and not any third party.” In practice, the new form thus abridges the right to free association as it does not provide equal protection to all ballot qualified parties . . .
Given the rate at which Arizonans are leaving the Democratic and Republican parties, it is reasonable to assume that the change to the registration form was intended to bolster their membership rolls. Indeed, Independents now outnumber Democrats in the state. As of last July, 32.5% of the state’s voters specified no party preference. 31.1% were registered with the Democratic party and 35.4% were registered Republican. Just under 1% of the state’s voters are registered Libertarian or Green.
This represents a massive shift in registration patterns from just over a decade ago. In the year 2000, 43% of the state’s voters were registered Republican, 38% were registered Democratic, and only 18% specified no party preference on their registration forms.
From today's column at IVN: