St. Louis County officials may no longer ban minor parties and independent candidates from special election ballots. In an important victory for voters and candidates dissatisfied with the two major political parties, U.S. District Judge Ronnie White has signed an order that permanently prohibits the county and its election officials from enforcing a charter provision that limited voters’ choices to only candidates representing the two major political parties.
Last January, the Constitution Party of Missouri attempted to nominate St. Louis County resident Cindy Redburn as its candidate for a special election to fill a vacant seat on the St. Louis County Council. But a representative for the St. Louis County Board of Election Commissioners rejected Redburn’s paperwork, claiming that the County’s charter only allowed county officials to list the Republican and Democrat nominees on the ballot as candidates for the voters’ consideration.
“This provision of the St. Louis County Charter was written to completely exclude minor parties and independent candidates from running to fill vacancies on the county council,” explained Dave Roland, director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri and the plaintiffs’ attorney in this case. “It is hard to imagine that anyone ever thought this was constitutional.”
With the Freedom Center’s assistance, the party, the would-be candidate, and a number of Redburn-supporting voters sued to ensure that there would be an alternative available for St. Louis County voters uninspired by the major parties’ candidates.
Once the lawsuit was filed, attorneys representing St. Louis County and its Board of Election Commissioners quickly agreed to put Redburn on the ballot for the upcoming election, but they still tried to negotiate a deal that would shut other minor parties and independent candidates out of the race.
“That was just out of the question,” said Redburn. “The other plaintiffs and I took on this case as a matter of principle. We didn’t want any special treatment; we wanted everyone to have their constitutional rights respected and for voters to have a real choice of candidates.”
After the election took place in April, the County asked the judge to throw the case out, even though the County still intended to exclude independent candidates and minor parties from future special elections. Judge White declined to do so, indicating that he intended to address the substance of the plaintiffs’ claims.
On January 27, 2016, Judge White brought the case to a conclusion, entering an order that permanently enjoins St. Louis County and its Board of Election Commissioners from enforcing any ban on independent candidates’ and minor parties’ participation in special elections.
“It is vitally important to our constitutional system for citizens to be able to cast ballots for candidates that truly represent the voters’ ideas and policy preferences,” Roland explained. “We are thrilled that our lawsuit has helped to restore these important First Amendment protections to citizens, candidates, and political parties in St. Louis County.”
Founded in November 2010, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is one of Missouri’s leading legal advocates for the constitutional protection of voters’ rights to elect representatives of their own choosing. In 2012, Roland won a unanimous Missouri Supreme Court decision that allowed voters to elect Jamilah Nasheed to the state senate, and in 2014 the Freedom Center won a victory that prevented Secretary of State Jason Kander from unilaterally removing candidates from election ballots.