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Libertarian Party of Maine Inc. v. Dunlap

United States District Court, D. Maine

May 27, 2016

MATTHEW DUNLAP, et al., Defendants.



         This case relates to the failure of the Libertarian Party of Maine, the Plaintiffs here, to qualify as a party under state law in December 2015. Under the impression that the Plaintiffs sought to gather additional enrollees until May 31, 2016 and to participate in the primary election on June 14, 2016, the Court denied their motion for preliminary injunction as a practical impossibility: the Secretary of State, the Defendants, simply would not have had enough time to carry out the primary election. The Plaintiffs now move for reconsideration arguing that they did not seek participation in the primary election.

         As significant constitutional rights are at stake, the Court grants the motion to reconsider. It finds the Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on their claim that Maine’s party-certification deadline of December 1 is unconstitutionally early. To deprive the Plaintiffs of participation in the general election would constitute irreparable harm, which outweighs any harm to the Defendants. Moreover, the important public interest in orderly elections must bend to the overriding public interest in constitutional rights that protect a party’s access to the ballot. Accordingly, the Court, acting within its discretion, fashions relief to protect the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, while not imperiling the Defendants’ ability to prepare for and administer the general election on November 8, 2016.


         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 to qualify as a recognized political party. Compl. for Declaratory & Injunctive Relief (ECF No. 1) (Compl.). On March 8, 2016, the Defendants filed an answer to the 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); 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) (Pls.’ Reply I). 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). On April 25, 2016, the Court issued an order denying the Plaintiffs’ emergency motion for preliminary injunction. Order on Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 30) (Order).

         On April 29, 2016, the Plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for reconsideration. Pls.’ Emer. Mot. for Recons. (ECF No. 32) (Pls.’ Mot.). The Defendants responded on May 6, 2016, Defs.’ Mem. in Opp’n to Pls.’ Mot. for Recons. (ECF No. 34) (Defs.’ Resp.), and the Plaintiffs replied on May 11, 2016. Reply Mem. in Supp. of Pls.’ Emer. Mot. for Recons. (ECF No. 35) (Pls.’ Reply II). On May 16, 2016, the Court held a hearing on the motion for reconsideration. Min. Entry (ECF No. 36).


         A. The Plaintiffs’ Motion

         The Plaintiffs move pursuant to Local Rule 7(g), arguing that “the Court’s denial of the request for preliminary injunctive relief is based on a manifest error of fact and/or law.” Pls.’ Mot. at 2-3 (citing D. Me. Loc. R. 7(g)). Although they acknowledge that they initially requested participation in the June 14, 2016 primary election, they say that they withdrew that request between the filing of their preliminary injunction motion on January 27, 2016 and the hearing on March 31, 2016. By the later date, the Plaintiffs “focused on enrolling voters in the Libertarian Party, nominating candidates by convention rather than by primary, and securing placement of its duly nominated candidates on the general election ballot, including candidates for President and Vice President.” Id. at 3 (citing Pls.’ Ex. 7). At the end of their motion, the Plaintiffs again change the relief they seek, asking for “not less than forty-five (45) days from the date of the Court’s ruling to enroll additional voters in the Libertarian Party and file a declaration with the Secretary of State, instead of the May 31st deadline . . . .” Id. at 6.

         B. The Defendants’ Response

         The Defendants do not contest that the Plaintiffs no longer sought participation in the primary election by the time of the hearing. Defs.’ Resp. at 2. Nonetheless, they write that “the Court’s findings are factually and legally correct and support denial of the preliminary injunction.” Id.

         The Defendants point out the ways in which the Plaintiffs’ requested relief, in particular ordering re-enrollment and allowing for new enrollments, “would disrupt the orderly process of Maine’s elections.” Id. at 4. While re-enrollment is “technically possible, ” the Defendants raise concerns that “doing so could cause significant legal harm because voters have a right to make their own enrollment decisions.” Id. “To avoid violating voters’ rights, ” the Defendants contend, “some type of notice would need to be sent to the 4, 513 voters informing them of the injunction and asking them to affirmatively state within a certain period of time whether they wish to be re-enrolled in the Libertarian Party.” Id. at 5. This would require the Court “to outline a procedure and a time frame for the issuance of and response to the notices, ” which in turn “would impose new administrative burdens on the Secretary of State’s small elections staff . . . .” Id. The Defendants also bristle at enrolling new Libertarians “during the same time period in which they must process applications for absentee ballots, handle the normal flow of voter registration applications leading up to the election, conduct the primary election, tabulate the results of that election, and enter voter history for that election.” Id.

         The Defendants consider the Plaintiffs’ request to nominate candidates via convention as essentially “asking the Court to re-write Maine election law to fashion an entirely separate legal process unique to the Libertarian Party.” Id. at 6. Finally, on the equities, the Defendants assert that “the Plaintiffs are not entitled to injunctive relief to remedy a problem of their own making.” Id.

         C. The Plaintiffs’ Reply

         The Plaintiffs begin by pointing out that the Defendants do not dispute the “central basis” of their motion, i.e., that they did not seek participation in the primary election. Pls.’ Reply II at 1. They raise several objections to the Defendants’ claim that they cannot re-enroll Libertarians without burdening the Secretary and compromising voters’ rights. First, the Plaintiffs say that the argument-raised for the first time in the Defendants’ response-comes too late. Id. at 2. Second, according to the Plaintiffs and contrary to the position taken by the Defendants in their response, Deputy Flynn testified at the hearing that her office would be able to re-enroll Libertarians. Id. at 3. Third, they perceive “a bizarre form of Chutzpah laced with a twist of irony” in the Defendants’ argument that re-enrollment would violate voters’ rights: “By feigning newfound respect for the associational rights of these 4, 513 voters, Defendants seek to persuade the Court not to intervene on their behalf and on behalf of the Libertarian Party with whom they sought to associate . . . .” Id. at 3-4.

         To the extent the Court accepts the voters’ rights argument, the Plaintiffs offer two fixes. First, “[i]f in fact any of those 4, 513 unenrolled voters have subsequently enrolled in other political parties, then the Secretary of State can notify such persons of the Court’s ruling and give them the opportunity to either remain enrolled in that party or instead be reenrolled in the Libertarian.” Id. at 4. Second, the Court could order the Secretary of State to give the Libertarian Party credit for the 4, 513 verified enrollments without re-enrolling any Libertarians. Id.

         “Above all else, ” the Plaintiffs emphasize, “the theme of the relief should be to enjoin the state from enforcing the December 1st party qualification deadline and the consequences thereof.” Id. (citing Stoddard v. Quinn, 593 F.Supp. 300 (D. Me. 1984)). They close by arguing that whatever their shortcomings in attempting to qualify as a party, these shortcoming do not offer the Defendants “a legal defense to the constitutional flaws inherent in the statute.” Id. at 5.


         A. Motion for Reconsideration

         Pursuant to Local Rule 7(g), a motion to reconsider an interlocutory order of the court “shall demonstrate that the order was based on a manifest error of fact or law . . . .” D. Me. Loc. R. 7(g). In addition to manifest error of fact or law, a district court may grant a motion for reconsideration “if the Court has ‘patently misunderstood’ a party, or if the court made an error ‘not of reasoning but of apprehension.’” Pro Con, Inc. v. Interstate Fire & Cas. Co., 831 F.Supp.2d 367, 371 (D. Me. 2011) (quoting Ruiz Rivera v. Pfizer Pharms., LLC, 521 F.3d 76, 82 (1st Cir. 2008)). “A district court has ‘substantial discretion and broad authority to grant or deny’ a motion for reconsideration.” Id. (quoting Ruiz Rivera, 521 F.3d at 81).

         The Court’s order rested on the practical impossibility of extending the certification deadline to May 31, 2016 and allowing the Libertarian Party to participate in the primary election on June 14, 2016. Order at 22-27. It concluded that “[p]ut simply, the May 31 date would not leave enough time for the state of Maine to run an orderly primary election.” Id. at 23.

         The Plaintiffs portray the Court as confused about their request to participate in the primary, which they admit to have initially requested but from which they claim to have later retreated, and argue that its decision to deny the preliminary injunction follows from that confusion and constitutes a manifest error of either fact or law. Pls.’ Mot. at 1-6. The Plaintiffs assert that their request for injunctive relief “did not include a single request having anything to do with this year’s primary election, scheduled to occur on June 14, 2016.” Id. at 2. In short, the Plaintiffs’ assertion is incorrect. In the Plaintiffs’ proposed order, they expressly included a request “to participate in the primary election and nominate Libertarian Party candidates for placement on the general election ballot . . . .” Pls.’ Ex. 7 at 1-2. So, in deciding the original order, in view of their specific request to participate in the primary election, the Court concluded that the remedies the Plaintiffs suggested in the proposed order would not achieve the relief they had requested, and the Court denied the motion for injunctive relief based on practical impossibility.

         Were this an ordinary case, the Court would readily conclude that the Libertarian Party had unintentionally misled the Court as to the relief it was seeking, and the Court would deny a motion for reconsideration caused by the Plaintiffs’ own mistake. Nevertheless, the matter before the Court raises important questions of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the Libertarian Party’s ability to place its candidates on the general election ballot. Furthermore, the Defendants are not asserting that the Plaintiffs waived the arguments they are now pressing. Accordingly, the Court reconsiders its earlier order and reaches the merits of the Plaintiffs’ arguments in order to assure full protection of essential constitutional guarantees.

         B. Judicial Review of the State Electoral Scheme

         Before turning to the substance of the motion now under reconsideration, the Court sets out the principles that guide its review of the state electoral scheme.

         As reflected in its earlier order, the Court takes full measure of the state prerogative to regulate elections. The Supreme Court has written that such regulation is “[c]ommon sense, ” Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 433 (1992), and that “[a]s a practical matter, there must be a substantial regulation of elections if they are to be fair and honest and if some sort of order, rather than chaos, is to accompany the democratic process, ” Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730 (1974); see also Libertarian Party of Me. v. Diamond, 922 F.2d 365, 370 (1st Cir. 1993) (quoting Storer). Indeed, the Constitution reserves to the states the power to prescribe “Times, Places, and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives . . . .” U.S. Const. art. I, § 4, cl. 1.

         At the same time, the issue before the Court involves first principles, such as “the right of individuals to associate for the advancement of political beliefs” and “the right of qualified voters, regardless of their political persuasion, to cast their votes effectively”-both rights that, “of course, rank among our most precious freedoms.” Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 30 (1968). In the words of the Supreme Court, “[r]epresentative democracy in any populous unit of governance is unimaginable without the ability of citizens to band together in promoting among the electorate candidates who espouse their political views.” Calif. Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 574 (2000). “It is beyond cavil that ...

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