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South Dakota Libertarian Party v. Gant

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

October 10, 2014

JASON M. GANT, in his official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of South Dakota, Defendant

For South Dakota Libertarian Party, Executive Committee of the South Dakota Libertarian Party, Ryan Gaddy, Plaintiffs: Edward K. Welch, LEAD ATTORNEY, Sioux Falls, SD.

For Jason M. Gant, in his official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of South Dakota, Defendant: Richard M. Williams, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney General of South Dakota, Pierre, SD.


Lawrence L. Piersol, United States District Judge.

This matter came before the Court on a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by Plaintiffs South Dakota Libertarian Party (SDLP), its Executive Committee and Ryan Gaddy, and a motion to dismiss the complaint filed by Defendant Jason M. Gant (Gant). Argument on both motions was heard on August 28, 2014, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Court orally announced that the motion for a preliminary injunction was denied and that the motion to dismiss the complaint was granted. The Court set forth on the record a summary of the basis for its rulings, and issued a short order on the motions. For each of the reasons stated by the Court on the record, and as follows, Plaintiffs' motion

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was denied and Defendant's motion was granted.


South Dakota law requires a political party to adopt a constitution or a set of bylaws, consistent with state law, which are then certified to, and filed with, the Secretary of State. SDCL § 12-5-1. The Libertarian Party of South Dakota certified its bylaws to the Secretary of State on March 23, 2012. The Secretary of State is required to notify county auditors of any party bylaw that affects an election. SDCL § 12-5-1.3. The Libertarian Party's bylaws prohibit the nomination of any candidate who is not a registered member of the Libertarian Party at the time of nomination.[1]

The Libertarian Party of South Dakota held its state convention on Saturday, August 9, 2014. That morning, Ryan Gaddy (Gaddy) signed and dated a change of voter registration form, attempting to change his party affiliation from Republican to Libertarian. Later, during the convention, Gaddy was nominated as the SDLP's candidate for Public Utilities Commissioner. On Monday, August 11, Bob Newland, Executive Committee Member of the SDLP, mailed Gaddy's voter registration to the Minnehaha County Auditor's Office. It was received by the Auditor on August 13, 2014. The Secretary of State's Office received the SDLP's official certification of statewide candidates on August 11, 2014. Upon review, the Secretary of State found that Gaddy completed a voter registration card on August 9, 2014, but the voter registration card was not received by the Minnehaha County Auditor until August 13, 2014. A change in voter registration is not effective until received by the county auditor.[2] SDCL § 12-4-6.1. As such, Gaddy was still a registered Republican at the time of his nomination by the Libertarian Party. South Dakota law requires all candidates who seek a party's nomination to be registered affiliates of the party. SDCL § 12-6-3.2 (" No person may sign a declaration of candidacy or be nominated as a political candidate for a party unless that person is a registered voter with that party affiliation." ). Because Gaddy was not a registered Libertarian at the time of his nomination, the Secretary of State rejected the Libertarian Party's nomination of Gaddy as a candidate for Public Utilities Commissioner.

Plaintiffs sought a declaration that SDCL § 12-6-3.2 is unconstitutional, as well as injunctive relief directing the Secretary of State to place Gaddy's name on the general election ballot as the SDLP's nominee for Public Utilities Commissioner.


I. Motion for Preliminary Injunction

The proper analysis of the preliminary injunction motion is found in Planned Parenthood Minn., N.D., S.D. v. Rounds, 530 F.3d 724, 731-32 (8th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (reaffirming " that a party seeking a preliminary injunction of the implementation

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of a state statute must demonstrate more than just a 'fair chance' that it will succeed on the merits. We characterize this more rigorous standard ... as requiring a showing that the movant 'is likely to prevail on the merits.'" ). That case requires the Court to examine first the likelihood that Plaintiffs will prevail on the merits of their claim before the Court applies the remaining three factors of a preliminary injunction analysis: (1) the threat of irreparable harm or injury to the movant absent the injunction, (2) the balance between the harm to the movant and the harm that the injunction's issuance would inflict on other interested parties, and (3) the public interest. Dataphase Sys,. Inc. v. CL Sys., Inc., 640 F.2d 109, 114 (8th Cir. 1981).

A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

As an initial matter, the Supreme Court has recognized that " 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." Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730, 94 S.Ct. 1274, 39 L.Ed.2d 714 (1974). In Storer, the Supreme Court upheld as constitutional a California law similar to SDCL § 12-6-3.2. The law at issue in Storer barred any candidate from running as an independent (non-party) candidate if they had been affiliated with a political party at any time during the twelve months prior to the next primary. Two former members of the Democratic Party who were disqualified as independent (non-party) candidates for Congress challenged the law as violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Strictly scrutinizing the statute,[3] the Court held that it served a compelling state interest.

It protects the direct primary process by refusing to recognize independent candidates who do not make early plans to leave a party and take the alternative course to the ballot. It works against independent candidacies prompted by short-range political goals, pique, or personal quarrel. It is also a substantial barrier to a party fielding an 'independent' ...

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