(The Center Square) – A federal judge has ordered Maine to allow Libertarian Party members to re-enroll in their party and nominate candidates for the 2022 elections.
In a ruling, U.S. District Court judge Lance Walker directed Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to send official notices to previously enrolled libertarians encouraging them to re-register to vote under their party affiliation.
The order follows a Nov. 17 ruling by Walker which struck down two state laws governing ballot access for minor political parties. Walker said the automatic purging of minor party voters from the state’s Central Voter Registration system puts minor parties and their candidates at a disadvantage.
Jim Baines, chairman of the Maine Libertarian Party, told local radio station WVOM that Walker's ruling means the state "can't just throw out someone's voter registration because they [the party] didn't meet a certain threshold."
"That's the ruling, and of course it's going to help us a lot," Baines told the radio station. "This has been a long time coming."
Baines said the court win was a "partial victory" because it requires party members to re-register – instead of just restoring the 6,000 members that were purged from the voter rolls – and didn't restore a box on state voter registration cards for the Libertarian Party, alongside Democrats, Republicans and Green Party affiliations.
The lawsuit was filed by the Libertarian Party of Maine following the 2018 elections when it was stripped of its qualified party status after its candidates failed to get enough votes.
Maine law requires political parties to enroll at least 5,000 registered voters to be recognized as a major party and list its candidates on next year's ballot.
To preserve its "qualified" designation a party must enroll twice that amount – or 10,000 voters – get at least 5% of the vote in a statewide or presidential race.
If a party doesn't meet those thresholds, state law requires voters who have registered with the party to be automatically unenrolled.
The Libertarian party has gained and lost its major party status at least twice since 2015, according to the secretary of state's office.
Only about 60 Libertarians were enrolled in the party as of last year, according to state elections data.
Baines said he isn't sure how many will re-register but said the party will be making a big push to get its members back onto the voter rolls.
Complicating the effort is a surge in the COVID-19 infections and the overall cost of registering voters for a non-mainstream political party, he said.
"Getting registrations for a 'non-glamour party' is an expensive deal," Baines told WVOM. "It takes money in order to get registrations if you're not a Democrat or a Republican."