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Libertarian Party of Maine Inc. v. Dunlap

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 25, 2016

LIBERTARIAN PARTY OF MAINE, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MATTHEW DUNLAP, et al., Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

In this election law case, in December 2015, the Secretary of State for the state of Maine rejected the Libertarian Party of Maine, Inc.’s attempt to qualify as a recognized political party, and the Libertarian Party is now seeking to force the Secretary to reopen the qualification process to allow it to gather additional party enrollees and then to participate in the upcoming primary and general elections. The Court denies the Libertarian Party’s request for injunctive relief on practical grounds, namely that the requested relief would send the election process into chaos. The Court does not reach the merits of the underlying declaratory judgment action.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 4, 2016, the Plaintiffs, the Libertarian Party of Maine, Inc. and several individuals affiliated with the Libertarian Party, filed a complaint against Matthew Dunlap, the Secretary of State for the state of Maine (Secretary Dunlap); Julia Flynn, the Deputy Secretary of State for the state of Maine (Deputy Flynn); Tracy Willet, the Assistant Director, Division of Elections, state of Maine (Assistant Director Willet); and the Maine Department of the Secretary of State (the Department or the Secretary), seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction concerning the Defendants’ actions and omissions regarding the attempts of the Libertarian Party and its members to participate in Maine’s June 2016 primary election. Compl. for Declaratory & Injunctive Relief (ECF No. 1) (Compl.). On March 8, 2016, the Defendants filed an answer to Plaintiffs’ Complaint. Defs.’ Ans. to Pls.’ Compl. (ECF No. 17).

On January 27, 2016, the Plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for preliminary injunction, a request for oral argument, and a supporting memorandum. Pls.’ Emer. Mot. for a Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 8) (Pls.’ Mot.); Id. Attach. 1 (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pls.’ Emer. Mot. for Prelim. Inj.) (Pls.’ Mem.). On February 17, 2016, the Defendants filed their opposition. Defs.’ Mem. in Opp’n to Pls.’ Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 14) (Defs.’ Opp’n). On March 9, 2016, the Plaintiffs filed a reply to the Defendants’ opposition. Reply Mem. in Supp. of Pls.’ Emer. Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 19). On February 16, 2016, the Court granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for oral argument. Order Granting Mot. for Oral Arg./Hr’g (ECF No. 12). On March 31, 2016, the Court held oral argument, which included the presentation of testimonial evidence, Min. Entry (ECF No. 24), and which broke for the day then resumed and concluded on April 5, 2016. Min. Entry (ECF No. 26)

II. THE FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT

A. The Parties

The Plaintiff Libertarian Party of Maine, Inc. (Maine Libertarian Party) describes itself as a nonprofit corporation with a principal place of business in Brunswick, Maine, established in 1998 for the principal purpose of promoting and implementing libertarian ideas and principles, by, among other things, forming a libertarian political party in Maine, promoting the election of libertarian candidates for public office in Maine and more meaningful electoral choices for Maine voters, working for the election of the national Libertarian Party nominee for President and Vice President, conducting informational and educational activities, and supporting or opposing referenda and ballot initiatives. Compl. ¶ 1. The Libertarian Party says it is affiliated with the national Libertarian Party, the third largest political party organization in the United States. Id.

Several individuals associated with the Maine Libertarian Party are also included as Plaintiffs: Jorge Maderal, a Brunswick, Maine resident, who is President and Chair of the Maine Libertarian Party and a member of the national Libertarian Party; Susan Poulin, a resident of Casco, Maine, Secretary of the Maine Libertarian Party; Shawn Levasseur, a resident of Rockland, Maine, Treasurer of the Maine Libertarian Party; Christopher Lyons, a resident of Brunswick, Maine, a member of the Maine and national Libertarian parties; Eric Grant, a resident of Biddeford, Maine and a member of the Maine and national Libertarian parties; and Charles Jacques, a resident of Brunswick, Maine and a member of the Maine and national Libertarian parties. Id. ¶¶ 2-7. Each individual Plaintiff has expressed the intention to form the Libertarian Party of Maine pursuant to a process established under Maine law. Id. The Defendants have each been impleaded in his, her, or its official capacity. Id. ¶¶ 9-12.

B. Jurisdiction and Venue

The Plaintiffs assert that this Court has original jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because their claims arise under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. ¶ 15. They say that venue is appropriate because all the individual Plaintiffs are residents of Maine, the Maine Libertarian Party is a Maine nonprofit corporation, and all the Defendants are located and maintain their offices in Maine. Id. ¶ 13. They state that the Court has personal jurisdiction over the Defendants because they are Maine state governmental officials and a Maine state governmental agency. Id. ¶ 14.

C. Facts Common to All Counts

1. Maine’s Statutory Scheme for Political Parties and Elections

The Plaintiffs allege that in 2013 the Maine Legislature enacted an amendment to Maine’s election laws that required political parties not yet officially recognized by the state of Maine to enroll at least 5, 000 voters during the year before a general election as a condition for participating in the following year’s primary elections. Id. ¶ 17 (citing 21-A M.R.S. § 303). According to the Plaintiffs, under the new law, citizens seeking to form a political party must certify their enrollment of the minimum number of voters no later than December 1st of the year before the general election, more than six months before the primary election and more than eleven months before the general election. Id. The Plaintiffs say that with the sole exception of the office of President of the United States, the primary election is the exclusive gateway to participation in Maine’s general election for all political parties, major and minor alike. Id. ¶ 18 (citing 21-A M.R.S. § 331). They assert that unlike other states, Maine does not allow minor political parties to nominate candidates for federal, state, or local office by holding a party convention. Id.

2. Plaintiffs’ Effort to Qualify for Electoral Participation

The Plaintiffs state that in December 2014, they along with other registered Maine voters formally declared their intent to form the “Libertarian Party of Maine” by enrollment pursuant to 21-A M.R.S. § 303. Id. ¶ 21. They allege that on December 22, 2014 and December 29, 2014, they filed two fully executed declarations with the Secretary of State containing the names of ten Maine voters not yet enrolled in a qualified party. Id. They state that from January 1, 2015 through November 30, 2015, they procured the enrollment of 6, 482 Maine voters representing 356 different Maine towns and cities in the Maine Libertarian Party and submitted valid forms to the Secretary of State and to local election officials. Id. ¶ 22.

On December 1, 2015, the Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Maderal filed a certificate with the Secretary of State pursuant to 21-A M.R.S. § 303(2) stating that the Libertarian Party of Maine had enrolled at least 5, 000 Maine voters, and under the statute, the Secretary of State had five business days-until December 8, 2015-to verify the total number of enrollments and notify the Plaintiffs whether the Libertarian Party had met the requirements to participate in Maine’s 2016 primary election. Id. ¶ 23. They allege that at a meeting with Deputy Flynn and her assistant, Melissa Packard, at the Department’s office in Augusta on December 8, 2015, Mr. Maderal was told that the unofficial “verified” number of Maine voters was 4, 489, below the 5, 000 threshold. Id. ¶ 24. The Plaintiffs say that the Secretary of State’s verification process contained a number of discrepancies and concerns, including an unusually high rejection/failure rate for the enrollments, 31% of all enrollments submitted. Id. ¶ 25. As a consequence, the Plaintiffs contend that on December 14, 2015, the Maine Libertarian Party asked the Secretary of State to extend the verification process under 21-A M.R.S. § 303(2) to allow the Secretary of State and the Maine Libertarian Party an opportunity to investigate and remedy the high rejection/failure rate. Id. ¶ 26.

3. Disqualification of the Libertarian Party and its Members

The Plaintiffs maintain that on December 18, 2015, the Maine Libertarian Party received a letter from Deputy Flynn announcing that the Secretary was able to verify only 4, 513 enrollments in the Libertarian Party of Maine, falling short of the 5, 000 required to form a new political party and participate in the 2016 primary election. Id. ¶ 27. Although Deputy Flynn indicated in the letter that the Department had been able to verify a number of additional Libertarian Party enrollees after the December 8, 2015 meeting between Deputy Flynn and Mr. Maderal, the Department did not have sufficient time to follow up with all 356 cities and towns across the state of Maine that received enrollment applications. Id. The Plaintiffs say that except for the office of the Presidency of the United States, the Secretary’s December 18th determination meant that the individual Plaintiffs and others would be disqualified from nominating, voting for, otherwise supporting, or running as a Libertarian Party candidate for federal, state, or local office in Maine’s 2016 primary and general elections. Id. ¶ 28.

The Plaintiffs also claim that in her December 18th letter, Deputy Flynn further notified the Maine Libertarian Party that all Maine voters enrolled in the Libertarian Party would be “unenrolled” and that the Department would inform municipal officials that the Libertarian Party is no longer an “acceptable” enrollment option. Id. ¶ 29. The Plaintiffs say that Deputy Flynn denied the Maine Libertarian Party’s request that it be given additional time to allow more enrollments to be processed and verified and to address any irregularities and wrongfully rejected enrollments, stating in part that the governing statute, 21-A M.R.S. § 303, did not allow such an extension. Id. In addition, the Plaintiffs allege that they were not afforded the opportunity for an administrative hearing before the Secretary’s decision disqualifying the Libertarian Party from participating in the 2016 primary election and nullifying its enrollment status. Id. ¶ 30.

The Plaintiffs assert on information and belief that the Defendants failed to deliver to local election officials in a timely and expeditious manner all voter and enrollment forms that the Plaintiffs submitted to the Department from January 1, 2015 through mid-October 2015. Id. ¶ 31. As a result, they claim, the local election officials were unable or failed to complete the form processing so that they could verify the total number of Maine Libertarian Party enrollments within the five-day deadline under 21-A M.R.S. § 303(2). Id. The Plaintiffs also allege that the municipal officials improperly invalidated or failed to process more than one thousand voter registration and enrollment forms that should have resulted in the successful enrollments in the Maine Libertarian Party. Id. ¶ 32.

On December 22, 2015, the Plaintiffs claim, Assistant Director Willet sent a memorandum to all municipal registrars and clerks throughout the state of Maine announcing that the Libertarian Party of Maine had failed to qualify as a political party eligible to participate in the 2016 primary election. Id. ¶ 33. She also informed all local election officials that the Department had (a) removed the Libertarian Party as an enrollment choice in the Central Voter Registration (CVR) database, and (b) changed the enrollment status of all voters enrolled in the Libertarian Party to “unenrolled.” Id. The Plaintiffs say that Assistant Director Willet further instructed the municipal officials to designate as “Unenrolled” any voters who submit applications requesting enrollment in the Libertarian Party. Id.

III. THE PARTIES’ POSITIONS

A. The Plaintiffs’ Motion


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