Members of the Oklahoma Americans Elect Party filed a lawsuit Friday seeking to get their presidential and vice presidential nominees on the November ballot.
“They complied with the law,” said James Linger, the Tulsa attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the chairman of the Oklahoma Americans Elect Party and the party's seven presidential electors.
The lawsuit filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court also wants to stop state election officials from printing ballots until the high court rules.
A hearing before a Supreme Court referee is set for Wednesday. Election officials had hoped to start printing ballots Tuesday in order to get them mailed to military members and others living in other countries by Sept. 21, or 45 days before the Nov. 6 election, to comply with federal law.
Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said work on preparing the ballots for the printer is ongoing.
“We're continuing the process of preparing for the election,” he said.
The lawsuit is in response to advice to election officials from the state attorney general's office not to place the Americans Elect nominees on the ballot. National Americans Elect Party officials never authorized the formation of any local party group or committee in Oklahoma, nor did national party officials ever file the paperwork and complete the necessary tasks to be recognized as a political party in the state, according to a legal memorandum from the attorney general's office.
Under the Americans Elect Party's bylaws, it is the party's board of directors that is empowered to perform any functions of the local party or committee in Oklahoma, it said. It also was the Americans Elect Party's board of directors — not Oklahoma Americans Elect Party members — that was empowered, if desired, to elect the party's Oklahoma presidential electors.
“The state of Oklahoma doesn't recognize national parties, they recognize parties that are qualified under Oklahoma law,” he said. “The people that signed the petition for Americans Elect (to be recognized as a political party) were all Oklahoma voters.
“It's sort of unprecedented where you have a national party wanting to disband but the state party wants to continue on,” Linger said. “To me, the rights that should be protected are those of Oklahoma voters.”
The attorney general's legal memorandum said that even if members of the Oklahoma Americans Elect Party were authorized to nominate presidential electors, no Americans Elect Party candidates should appear on the ballot because the national party's board of directors chose not to field candidates for president or vice president. Electors, if chosen, would have no function; under Oklahoma law, electors appear only in brackets next to the candidates for president and vice president chosen by the party at the national level.
Election officials sought the attorney general's office advice after Rex Lawhorn, chairman of the Oklahoma Americans Elect Party, submitted his party's seven electors for the presidential election; a day earlier, Kahil Byrd, a director of the Americans Elect Party, wrote Oklahoma election officials that the party is withdrawing its ballot line on the Nov. 6 ballot and is terminating its status as a qualified party in Oklahoma.
Lawhorn told election officials that members of the newly formed Oklahoma Americans Elect Party met earlier and agreed to have Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson and his vice presidential running mate, James Gray, listed as their party's nominees.
“I don't think the national party can tell the state party what to do, particularly when the national party wants to go out of existence,” Linger said.
“If they don't get on the ballot in Oklahoma, this will be the third presidential election in a row where Oklahoma has had only two choices,” he said. “Every other state is going to have three, four, or five or six choices.”
A Libertarian candidate hasn't been on Oklahoma's presidential ballot since 2000. In 2004 and 2008, Oklahoma was the only state that had only Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. Write-in candidates are not allowed.
Americans Elect Party officials planned to hold the first-ever online nominating convention to select a president-and-vice president ticket, but the idea evaporated when no candidates stepped forward to run. Americans Elect Party officials decided in June to suspend their plans.
Efforts to obtain political party status this year in Oklahoma for the Libertarian Party came up short. To have names placed on state ballots, a political party has to get signatures of registered voters that equal at least 5 percent of the votes cast for the office at the top of the previous ticket, or for this year, the total votes cast in the 2010 gubernatorial race. The party needed 51,739 valid signatures.
The Libertarian Party earlier this year turned in about 56,000 signatures, of which 41,070 were determined to be registered voters. Americans Elect turned in about 90,000 signatures. It was determined 68,424 signatures were registered voters