OPINION AND ORDER
GENE CARTER, Judge.
In this action plaintiffs Phyllis Ann Stoddard and Kenneth Stoddard challenge the constitutionality of 21 M.R.S.A. § 494 (1983 & Supp.1983-1984), which prescribes requirements independent candidates must meet in order to be placed on the state election ballot. Plaintiffs claim requirements that independent candidates obtain a minimum number of signatures upon a nominating petition and that nominating petitions be filed by April 1 in the election year violate their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Jurisdiction is properly asserted under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(3) and 2201, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiffs are husband and wife. Mrs. Stoddard seeks to have her name placed on the ballot as an independent candidate for
Section 494 sets forth the requirements for nomination petitions for independent candidates. Nomination petitions for candidates for United States Senator who are not associated with a qualified party
The parties have stipulated to the material facts in this action. Mrs. Stoddard filed her nominating petition for United States Senate on April 2, 1984.
On or before June 28, 1984, Mrs. Stoddard submitted additional nominating petitions containing 1,771 valid signatures within the meaning of section 494. The additional signatures brought the total number of valid signatures to 4,060.
Mr. and Mrs. Stoddard filed this action on July 3, 1984. They seek a judgment declaring that the filing deadline and signature requirements of section 494 are unconstitutional. They also request the Court to enjoin the Secretary of State from enforcing the filing deadline and minimum signature requirement as grounds for refusing to place Mrs. Stoddard's name on the ballot as an independent candidate for United States Senator in the general election to be held on November 6, 1984.
The parties stipulate that Mrs. Stoddard has submitted petitions containing more than the minimum number of signatures required by section 494(5)(C). The only defect in Mrs. Stoddard's effort to gain access to the ballot, therefore, is her failure to file petitions containing the requisite number of signatures by or on the deadline of April 2, 1984. Id. § 494(9). The question whether the signature requirement, standing apart from the filing deadline, is constitutional is not presented by these facts.
The filing deadline and petition signature requirement are ballot access restrictions which may limit the field of candidates from which voters may choose. The impact of these restrictions on voters implicates fundamental rights protected by the First Amendment, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 787, 103 S.Ct. 1564, 1569, 75 L.Ed.2d 547, 556 (1983). First, ballot access restrictions
Not all ballot access restrictions are unconstitutional, however. The Supreme Court has observed, "`as 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 processes.'" Anderson, 460 U.S. at 789, 103 S.Ct. at 1570, 75 L.Ed.2d at 557 (quoting Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730, 94 S.Ct. 1274, 1279, 39 L.Ed.2d 714 (1975)).
The United States Supreme Court had occasion recently to determine the constitutionality of a state filing deadline as applied to John Anderson's 1980 independent candidacy for president in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 103 S.Ct. 1564, 75 L.Ed.2d 547 (1983). Three years earlier, this Court had overturned the filing deadline applied to Mr. Anderson's independent presidential bid here in Maine. Anderson v. Quinn, 495 F.Supp. 730 (D.Me.1980) aff'd without opinion, 634 F.2d 616 (1st Cir.1980). Both cases have significant precedential value, but the analyses utilized are somewhat different. This Court relied primarily upon the Equal Protection Clause in Anderson v. Quinn. In Anderson v. Celebrezze, the Supreme Court, diverging from earlier decisions,
In Anderson v. Celebrezze, candidate Anderson submitted to the Ohio Secretary of State a nominating petition containing the requisite number of signatures, but it was tendered on May 16, 1980, nearly two months after the March 20 deadline. See Anderson, 460 U.S. at 783-784, 103 S.Ct. at 1566-67, 75 L.Ed.2d at 553-54. The Supreme Court held the filing deadline, as applied to Mr. Anderson, unconstitutional. It employed the following analysis:
460 U.S. at 789, 103 S.Ct. at 1570, 75 L.Ed.2d at 558 (citation omitted).
The first step in the analysis set forth in Anderson is to identify the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Anderson, 460 U.S. at 790, 103 S.Ct. at 1570, 75 L.Ed.2d at 558. The Supreme Court has recognized that an early filing deadline "may have a substantial impact on independent-minded voters." Id. The Court observed: "In election campaigns, particularly those which are national in scope, the candidates and the issues simply do not remain static over time." Id.
Ohio's deadline burdened independent candidacies in two respects. First, Ohio's March 20 filing deadline, which occurred five months earlier than major party conventions, prevented independent candidates from emerging to represent the views of voters dissatisfied with candidates of the major parties. Id. 460 U.S. at 790-791, 103 S.Ct. at 1570-71, 75 L.Ed.2d at 558-59. Second, Ohio's filing deadline posed a substantial obstacle to independent candidates' organizing efforts because of the remoteness of primary campaigns and the general election:
Id. 460 U.S. at 794, 103 S.Ct. at 1572, 75 L.Ed.2d at 560 (footnote omitted). See Bradley v. Mandel, 449 F.Supp. 983, 986-87 (D.Md.1978). The Court concluded that the Ohio filing deadline burdened the First Amendment rights of an identifiable segment of voters: "those voters whose political preferences lie outside the existing political parties."
The statutory election scheme for Maine state elections differs in some respects from the presidential electoral scheme considered in Anderson. In Maine, all party candidates for state office are nominated by primary occurring on the second Tuesday of June. 21 M.R.S.A. § 448. In contrast, major party presidential candidates are nominated by conventions in July or August. Thus, under the Maine scheme, the gap between the filing deadline for independent candidates and the nomination of party candidates is somewhat shorter than that of the Ohio scheme considered in Anderson. See Anderson, 460 U.S. at 791, 103 S.Ct. at 1571, 75 L.Ed.2d at 559.
Despite these differences, however, the obstacles to independent candidates caused by the Ohio filing deadline are, or may be, present in Maine's scheme. A campaign for United States Senate in Maine is not immune from the volatile forces that may create a demand for representation of the views of voters who become dissatisfied with available party choices at some late date in the campaign. Lacking a substantial record, the Court is not in a position to compare the volatility of a Maine state election to that of a national election. At best, it may be observed that the concerns expressed in Anderson relating to the unpredictability of a national election are, potentially at least, equally applicable to a Maine state election.
More significantly, Maine's filing deadline may hinder independent candidates' organizing and signature-gathering efforts. See Anderson, 460 U.S. at 792, 103 S.Ct. at 1572, 75 L.Ed.2d at 560. Plaintiffs argue that the Maine filing deadline impairs their signature-gathering efforts. They point out that all signatures must be collected between January 1 and April 1, 21 M.R.S.A. §§ 494(6) & (8), a time when adverse weather conditions prevail in Maine. They argue that signatures must be acquired at a time of year when election issues are undefined and the voters are apathetic. See Anderson, 460 U.S. at 792, 103 S.Ct. at 1572, 75 L.Ed.2d at 560; Bradley v. Mandel, 449 F.Supp. at 986-87. In addition, plaintiffs claim that, as independents,
The parties have stipulated that several candidates gained places on the ballot in the past decade through the nomination petition procedure of section 494. The Secretary of State argues that the success of past independent candidates in obtaining ballot access belies the contention that the state law restricts ballot access.
The facts do not support the Secretary's argument. Seven candidates for statewide office successfully completed nomination petition requirements similar to those currently in effect in the election years of 1980, 1982, and 1984.
The record gives no indication of how many potential candidates attempted to meet the requirements but failed, how many were unable to make a decision prior to the filing deadline, and how many were deterred from seeking office by the April 1 filing deadline. In the absence of such evidence, the fact that seven candidates filed successfully and three unsuccessfully in the past three elections cannot be put in proper perspective and is of slight probative value. These facts do not controvert plaintiffs' assertion that the early deadline posed a substantial obstacle to Mrs. Stoddard's gaining a place on the ballot. Nor do they discredit the Supreme Court's observation in Anderson that an early filing deadline hinders independent candidates' signature-gathering and organizational efforts.
It is clear, then, that the April 1 filing deadline places a burden on an identifiable segment of Maine voters — those who may be dissatisfied with the major parties' choices. See Anderson, 460 U.S. at 792, 103 S.Ct. at 1572, 75 L.Ed.2d at 560. The Supreme Court explained how such a restriction impinges on First Amendment rights:
Anderson, 460 U.S. at 795, 103 S.Ct. at 1573, 75 L.Ed.2d at 561 (footnote and citations omitted).
The second step in the Anderson analysis is "to identify and evaluate the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule." 460 U.S. at 789, 103 S.Ct. at 1570, 75 L.Ed.2d at 558. The Secretary of State asserts that the important interest justifying the filing deadline is equal treatment of all candidates. Major party candidates who are nominated by primary must file their nominating petitions on the same date as independent candidates. 21 M.R. S.A. § 445(8).
The Ohio filing deadline overturned by the Supreme Court in Anderson applied equally to candidates participating in a primary. 460 U.S. at 799, 103 S.Ct. at 1575. 75 L.Ed.2d at 564. The Supreme Court observed, however:
Id. (emphasis added). The Supreme Court found that the consequences of failing to meet the deadline were different for party primary participants and independents, since the parties' nominees would appear on the general election ballot even if they had not met the filing deadline. Id. Under Ohio's scheme, the major parties were able to include consideration of all events prior to their conventions in their selection of a nominee, whereas "the independent's judgment must be based on a history that ends in March." Id. 460 U.S. at 800-801, 103 S.Ct. at 1575-76, 75 L.Ed.2d at 564-65. Additionally, the early filing deadline for party primary candidates was adequately justified by administrative concerns which did not apply to independent candidacies. Id. 460 U.S. at 801, 103 S.Ct. at 1576, at 565. Finally, the successful primary candidate acquires a corresponding benefit — the support of an experienced political organization—for having entered the fray earlier. Id. This benefit was not enjoyed by independent candidates. Id.
Under Maine's electoral scheme, a candidate can be nominated only by primary or petition. See 21 M.R.S.A. § 441(1). Thus all candidates, party hopefuls and independents alike, face the same consequence for failure to meet the filing deadline. In this respect, Maine's scheme is distinguishable from the Ohio scheme invalidated by the Supreme Court.
In other respects, however, the filing deadline does not further the state's stated objective of equal treatment. First, parties have until the second Tuesday of June to select their nominees; an independent's judgment must be based on a history that ends April 1. See Anderson, 460 U.S. at 800-801, 103 S.Ct. at 1575-76, 75 L.Ed. 2d at 564-65. Second, the Secretary concedes that the early filing deadline for independents is not administratively necessary. The parties have stipulated that 127 days would be sufficient time to consider any nomination challenges and to prepare ballots. Those administrative concerns require a deadline no earlier than approximately July 1. The record contains no information concerning any administrative necessity for the April 1 filing deadline for primary candidates. In view of the fact that the primary election is nearly five months earlier than the general election, however, it is obvious that a filing deadline dictated only by administrative considerations
Finally, under Maine's scheme, the primary candidate enjoys a potential benefit corresponding to the early deadline — "the automatic support of an experienced political organization" — that is not enjoyed by independent candidates who are required to meet the same deadline. See id. 460 U.S. at 800, 103 S.Ct. at 1576, 75 L.Ed.2d at 565.
The Secretary of State's claim that the early filing deadline is justified by a state interest in equal treatment of all candidates suffers from the same defect as a similar claim made by the State of Ohio in Anderson: the filing deadline simply does not achieve the stated goal. See id. Equality is not achieved by applying the same deadline to substantially different types of candidacies. The Supreme Court observed: "[S]ometimes the grossest discrimination can lie in treating things that are different as though they were exactly alike." Id. (quoting Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431, 442, 91 S.Ct. 1970, 1976, 29 L.Ed.2d 554 (1971)).
The final step in the analysis set forth in Anderson is consideration of the extent to which legitimate state interests make it necessary to burden Plaintiffs' rights. Anderson, 460 U.S. at 789, 103 S.Ct. at 1570, 75 L.Ed.2d at 558. Equal treatment is the only state interest asserted by the Secretary to justify the filing deadline for independent candidates. Since the filing deadline fails to further that interest, there is no interest asserted by the state justifying any burden on plaintiffs' rights.
The Court determines that the filing deadline burdens First Amendment rights of association and franchise. In the absence of any assertion of legitimate state interests served by the deadline, it is unnecessary to weigh the extent of the burden against the strength of state interests. The inescapable conclusion is that the filing deadline for United States Senate candidates set forth in 21 M.R.S.A. § 494(9) violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
The Court is acutely mindful of the principle that "the state's important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions." Anderson, 460 U.S. at 788, 103 S.Ct. at 1570, 75 L.Ed.2d at 557. The Secretary of State in this case, however, has failed entirely to meet its burden of showing how the filing deadline advances the state's important regulatory interests. The Court cannot be blind to the fact that restrictions on independent candidacies are enacted by members of major parties, who have some level of direct interest in the success or failure of independent candidacies. Laws enacted by major parties that tend to quell independent candidacies must be scrutinized carefully in order to preserve
The Secretary of State also contends that, even if the filing deadline is unconstitutional, the Court should not grant the requested injunction because plaintiffs delayed in bringing this action.
Plaintiffs were informed that Mrs. Stoddard failed to obtain a sufficient number of signatures to gain a place on the ballot in a letter from the Secretary of State's office, dated April 4, 1984. Certainly, an action could have been brought at that time. This action was not filed, however, until July 3, 1984. The Secretary contends that the delay deprives the parties of the opportunity to develop an exhaustive factual and legal record, and the loser of the opportunity to appeal. In addition, the Secretary argues that insufficient time remains for Maine voters to exercise their statutory right to challenge Mrs. Stoddard's petition signatures. The Secretary urges the Court to refuse the injunction due to prejudice allegedly caused by the Plaintiffs' delay.
The Court is unconvinced that defendant has suffered, or will suffer, sufficient prejudice to justify withholding the requested injunction. The Secretary relies on the analysis set forth in Fishman v. Schaffer, 429 U.S. 1325, 97 S.Ct. 14, 50 L.Ed.2d 56 (1976). There, United States Supreme Court Justice Marshall, as Circuit Justice, denied an application for an injunction ordering officials of the State of Connecticut to place on the 1976 ballot the names of the Communist Party Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates.
Fishman is inapposite. It is a decision of a single justice of the Supreme Court on a request for injunctive relief. A single justice of the Supreme Court exercises his power to grant such relief "`sparingly and only in the most critical and exigent circumstances.'" Id. at 1326, 97 S.Ct. at 15; (quoting Williams v. Rhodes, 89 S.Ct. at 1, 2, 21 L.Ed.2d at 69, 70 (1968) (Stewart, J., in chambers).
The Secretary also claims that the plaintiffs' request for an injunction should be barred under the doctrine of laches. Laches "is an equitable doctrine which penalizes a litigant for negligent or wilful failure to assert his rights." Valmor Products Co. v. Standard Products Corp., 464 F.2d 200, 204 (1st Cir.1972). The plaintiffs brought this action approximately three months after their cause of action accrued and approximately four months before the election. Plaintiffs claim their action was not brought sooner because they required time to collect additional signatures and to evaluate their chances of success in this litigation. Under these circumstances, the Court is unable to find that the plaintiffs were willful or negligent in their failure to bring the action earlier.
It is true that the Secretary of State probably will not have sufficient time to appeal prior to the general election. After the election, the case arguably will be
Finally, the Secretary claims that the public will be prejudiced if the requested injunction is granted because there will be insufficient time for voters to challenge petition signatures. See 21 M.R.S.A. § 496.
Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 282, 81 S.Ct. 534, 543, 5 L.Ed.2d 551 (1961) (quoting Brown v. County of Buena Vista, 5 Otto (95 U.S.) 157, 161, 24 L.Ed. 422 (1877)). The possibility that voters of the State will be unable to challenge Mrs. Stoddard's petition signatures if the Court orders her name placed on the ballot has no bearing upon the Secretary's ability to effectively argue its position in this litigation. This is not a proper ground for relief under the doctrine of laches.
The filing deadline, as applied to the candidacy of Mrs. Stoddard, is unconstitutional. It burdens the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of voters. The only adequate remedy is to enjoin the Secretary of State from enforcing the filing deadline against Mrs. Stoddard. As a result, there is a possibility that voters who may wish to challenge signatures on her petition, pursuant to the statutory procedure, will have insufficient time to do so. The mere possibility that a voter may be deprived of his statutory right to challenge petitions is hardly sufficient grounds to withhold a remedy from voters who otherwise would suffer injury to their constitutional rights.
In accordance with the foregoing, judgment will be entered: