Independent candidates are making a last-ditch legal effort to overturn part of Vermont's newly-adopted campaign law that shifted their filing date from September to June, claiming the legislature is improperly denying them access to the ballot.
Jerry Trudell (pictured right), who ran for U.S. House in 2006 as an independent and again in 2008, filed a lawsuit Monday in Washington Superior Court hoping the court will allow him, and potentially other candidates, to get onto the ballot for November before the ballots are finalized and delivered for early voting on September 20. About a half-dozen other candidates joined his petition.
Trudell said the protracted recount process in the Democratic primary allows for additional time to amend the final ballot for November's election.
Vermont's changes to election law earlier this year forced independents to gather and present signatures to get on the November ballot at the same time that primary candidates had to file to get on the August primary ballot.
The law went into effect on April 7 and the deadline to submit petition signatures to get on the ballot was mid-June — a difficult turnaround time given independent candidates seeking statewide office need 500 signatures. Prior to this year, all candidates for the November election had until 60 days prior to the election — early September — to file their petitions.
Trudell handed in 600 signatures several weeks ago and had his petition denied by the Secretary of State's office.
"I have been doing my own legal research all summer as I have also been collecting my signatures, in the hope that I could find case law precedents that could support my case regarding the last-minute game change regarding the filing deadline to submit petitions for the upcoming election," Trudell told Seven Days. "To me this last minute game change is patently unfair as the law greatly restricts the ability to get on the ballot and to present alternative points of view and ideas."
Trudell cites a number of court cases around the country which have overturned legislative attempts to craft so-called "sore loser" laws that affect independent candidates. These "sore loser" laws are often designed to keep candidates who lose in primaries from turning around and running in the general election as an independent.
Some states, including California, require that a person cannot run as an independent for one full election cycle if they've taken part in a party primary. However, the law does not affect truly independent candidates who have never run for office under a party banner and may never.
Several courts, including one in New Jersey, ruled against legislative changes similar to the one in Vermont, claiming that moving the deadlines to too early a date harmed candidates.
"The requirement for an earlier filing date for primary candidates is because the primary is earlier, obviously, but, again, independent candidates are not part of the primary process so there is absolutely no reason to require independents to file with primary candidates," said Trudell. "Doing so clearly causes harm to independent candidates, and at the same time there is no harm done to the state if independent candidates are separated from the primary process."
Additionally, an independent candidate for state senate in Franklin County has appealed directly to the Vermont Supreme Court asking for the petition filing deadline to be overturned. In this case however, the candidate — Peter Moss — is on the ballot in November.
"As for me, I will be on the November 2, 2010 Vermont ballot for State Senate from Franklin County, so it is a genuine concern, not personal vindication," Moss argued in his appeal. His petition was signed by 18 voters. other candidates.
Trudell says if he fails to get his name on the ballot by court action he plans to run a grassroots write-in campaign.
"If I'm not on the ballot I'm going to grab the first bullhorn in sight and go from town to town and yell to write in Jerry Trudell for Congress and that'll be how I get my ideas out there," said Trudell.
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