Ballot access in question for Delaware Libertarians

DOVER — The state’s election commissioner says she doesn’t know which party should get ballot access belonging to Delaware’s 1,640 registered Libertarians.

Two committees are vying for that access: the Libertarian Party of Delaware and the Libertarian Party of Delaware Inc.

“I don’t know who gets to claim them at this point,” said Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove. “I am awaiting a response from my Deputy Attorney General.”

Befuddled with the scenario, the Libertarian Party of Delaware claims it’s both been putting candidates on state ballots and sending delegations to the National Libertarian Party’s conventions for many years. Libertarian Party of Delaware Secretary Will McVay said Ms. Manlove told his party leadership at the Feb. 12 Board of Elections meeting that their party was the one who would maintain ballot access, but has failed to provide it in writing.

“She knows who we are — everyone with the commissioner’s office knows who we are,” said Mr. McVay. “They’re well aware of who the real Libertarian party is. Why they’re not willing to make a ruling on it in writing in a timely fashion is, honestly, beyond me.”

The national Libertarian Party has also urged the commissioner to address the issue promptly. A statement from the executive director of the Libertarian National Committee, Wes Benedict, both recognizes the Libertarian Party of Delaware as their only state affiliate and disavows the claim made by the Libertarian Party of Delaware Inc. The statement reads:

“The Libertarian Party cannot have more than one statewide affiliate in any state, nor can it have more than one county-level affiliate in any county. The LNC has therefore requested that the Commissioner of Elections take prompt action to resolve this matter in accordance with Delaware law.”

Mr. McVay said the confusion started several months ago, when the Libertarian Party of Delaware Inc. “fraudulently” formed a “political committee” by filing a statement of organization with the election office. He notes that constitutionally, this sort of “hijacking” should be impossible, but Delaware code seems to only protect Republicans and Democrats from this.

“In Delaware code title 15, section 3302 (a), it specifically says that if you’re a Democrat or Republican, they’ll protect your name, but if you’re anyone else, you’re not mentioned,” said Mr. McVay. “So, we’re beginning to wonder if that’s an equal protections issue under the 14th Amendment as well.”

Libertarian Party of Delaware leadership was particularly dismayed when they discovered that the newly formed Libertarian Party of Delaware Inc. had sent out a post card to all the state’s registered Libertarians, inviting them to participate in a nominating convention at Lewinsky’s on Clinton — a restaurant in Delaware City. Mr. McVay says they were later relieved to see that no one seems to have taken it seriously. The convention, which took place on Saturday, attracted around eight people, he said. Mr. McVay noted that he and several other members of his party’s leadership tried to attend the event to raise concerns about its legitimacy.

“Allegedly we were ‘not on the list,’” he said. “We had eight people with us and would have doubled their turnout if we had been permitted entry. Their mailing campaign failed miserably.”

Mr. McVay said that his party’s legitimacy is painfully obvious to anyone willing it give it a cursory examination. In addition to the statement made by the national party, it’s clear that the Libertarian Party of Delaware Inc. has only recently tried to establish itself to usurp ballot access, he said.

“They’ve set up some false Facebook pages,” Mr. McVay said. “Our Facebook page has almost 900 followers and has been around for years, and theirs has like 20 followers and has been around only since December.”

Nevertheless, the situation has caused significant confusion among his party’s membership, Mr. McVay said.

“Our votes have reached out wanting to know what’s going on,” he said. “We’ve made our case the best we can, but it’d be really nice to inform our membership about their ballot access with confirmation by our commissioner. But, being a minority party it seems there’s no real rush for them to address this.”

According to the state’s February “tabulation of registered voters,” the Libertarian party is the fifth largest in the state behind the Independent Party of Delaware (5,897), Unaffiliated (158,896), Republican Party (192,232) and the Democratic Party (325,286).

Mr. McVay also took the opportunity to note that the “real” Libertarian party convention is scheduled for March 24th from noon to 5 p.m. at the Patchwork Playhouse of the Kent County Theater Guild in Dover. Party business including national party delegate elections and 2018 election candidate nominations will start at 1 p.m. Mr. McVay said all are welcome to attend, but only Delaware-registered Libertarians will be permitted to vote on official business.

Not a mystery

Although the circumstances are troubling, Mr. McVay notes that it’s not a mystery to his party’s leadership who’s responsible for forming the “fraudulent” party. He claims that three of the party’s former members that were recently banned for their behavior are the ones behind the effort. Several months ago, a rift formed between these members and the leadership over their stance on Delaware’s proposed House Bill 110 — which would legalize a taxed and regulated market for recreational cannabis.

“We were having a strategic disagreement over the bill, and it’s really a disagreement that permeates the entire Libertarian party,” Mr. McVay said. “You’ll often hear it described as: pragmatists versus radicals. We know that HB110 isn’t a perfect bill — it doesn’t get us to a Libertarian utopia as far as cannabis policy is concerned — but it’s a step in the right direction and it’d be better if it passed than if it doesn’t. The idea that the Libertarian party would be opposed to cannabis legalization would be a ‘man bites dog’ type story.”

Afterward, Mr. McVay said the Libertarian party agreed to pass a resolution to support the bill at one of their meetings and this upset the three individuals because they felt HB110 didn’t “go far enough.” Mr. McVay said the party leadership decided to censure them, and later ban them for a period of five years, after they became “abusive, disruptive and harassing.”

“They were even threating people with physical violence at our meetings,” he said.

The Libertarian Party of Delaware Inc. did not provide an official comment to this paper regarding their claim. But, the administrator of their Facebook page claimed that “the LPD is not affiliated with the Libertarian Party according to the Department of Election’s registration forms available to the public” and “the LPD, INC was established in 1975, and is in good standing with the state of Delaware,” in response to a request for comment.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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