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Libertarian Party of Alabama v. Merrill

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

August 28, 2019

LIBERTARIAN PARTY OF ALABAMA Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN HAROLD MERRILL, Secretary of State for the State of Alabama, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          EMILY C. MARKS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Libertarian Party of Alabama (“Libertarian Party”) filed a this action challenging the State of Alabama's policy of providing some political parties a free copy of the voter registration list while charging other parties a substantial fee. The Libertarian Party argues that this policy violates its Equal Protection Rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

         This case is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 5). For the reasons stated below, this motion is due to be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Pursuant to state law, Alabama maintains a computerized voter registration list that contains the name, address, voting location, and voting history of every legally registered voter in the state. Ala. Code § 17-4-33. Following every state and county election, each political party that satisfied the ballot access requirements is automatically provided a copy of the voter list free of charge and may later receive two additional electronic copies in the next calendar year. Id.

         A party may attain ballot access by either (1) performance or (2) petition. In the case of performance, a party may qualify if it achieved at least 20% of the entire vote cast for a state officer in the prior General Election. Ala. Code § 17-13-40. This qualification is only good for the next election, so a party must repeatedly get 20% of the vote for at least one state officer to qualify under § 17-13-40 for the next cycle. If a party does not secure 20% of the vote for a state official, it must file a petition by the date of the first primary election for the next election with signatures of at least 3% of the qualified voters who cast a ballot for the governor in the last election. Ala. Code § 17-6-22(a).

         In 2000, the Libertarian Party qualified for ballot access after it collected enough signatures to run a slate of candidates, with one statewide candidate receiving over 20% of the vote. By garnering 20% of the vote in a state-wide election, the Libertarian Party gained ballot access for the next election without a petition. The Libertarian Party then lost ballot access in 2002. The Libertarian Party continued to run candidates as independents through the less demanding process that resulted in the candidates not being identified as belonging to the Libertarian Party on the ballot.

         Under Alabama law, the Libertarian Party does not currently qualify for ballot access and thus, is not entitled a free copy of the voter registration list. See Ala. Code § 17-4-33(a)(10) (states that a free list is available to “each political party that satisfied the ballot access requirements for that election”); Ala. Code § 17-4-38 (providing for the “reasonable” and “uniform” charge for the production of voter lists to applicants not otherwise entitled to it without charge). Currently, pursuant to § 17-4-33(a)(10), only the Democratic and Republican parties receive a free copy of the voter list while political parties must pay approximately $34, 000. The Libertarian Party argues that this cost is prohibitively expensive for minor parties seeking the same list provided at no cost to major parties. The Libertarian Party explains that this list is important because it allows a political party to know the number of voters in a location so that the party can prioritize its efforts to gain support, it lets the party reach out to registered voters by name, at their home, to solicit support, and it assists parties in seeking out politically like-minded voters to obtain ballot access signatures and win elections for party candidates. The Libertarian Party is particularly interested in this list in order to begin collecting signatures to gain ballot access for the 2020 election. (Doc. 1 at 6).

         Due to the State's policy that has the effect of providing the Democratic and Republican parties with the voter list free of charge, while charging the Libertarian Party approximately $34, 000 for the same list, the Libertarian Party brings a § 1983 claim for violation of the Libertarian Party's First Amendment Rights and its Equal Protection Rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the Libertarian Party brings a facial and as applied challenge to the constitutionality of Alabama Code § 17-4-33(a)(10) and § 17-4-38.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         The plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Conclusory allegations that are merely “conceivable” and fail to rise “above the speculative level” are insufficient to meet the plausibility standard. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. This pleading standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Indeed, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. The Libertarian Party pleads sufficient facts to defeat the ...


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