The Socialist Equality Party candidates for president and vice president of the United States are suing Michigan officials in Detroit federal court for requiring the collection of thousands of signatures to qualify for the ballot in the midst of a pandemic.
Detroit resident Joseph Kishore and Norissa Santa Cruz, the respective candidates for president and vice president, said in a court filing that Michigan’s rules requiring independent candidates for those positions to gather between 30,000 and 60,000 signatures are “literally impossible” to fulfill during the coronavirus pandemic.
The continued insistence on those requirements during a months-long state stay-at-home order amounts to “voter suppression” and violates the “fundamental democratic rights” of the candidates and voters, according to the lawsuit filed against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and Elections Director Jonathan Brater.
“Unless this court intervenes, Michigan election law in conjunction with the stay-at-home order will effectively bar plaintiffs from appearing on the ballot, exclude their views from the electoral process, and suppress the socialist vote,” the lawsuit said.
Kishore and Santa Cruz, a California resident, argued that Democratic officials were seeking to stop their candidacy “in hopes of barring a party that they perceive as likely to gather votes that might otherwise be cast for their general election presidential candidate in Michigan.” They were referring to Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, whom Whitmer is backing as a presidential campaign co-chair.
“If the SEP’s candidates are excluded from the Michigan ballot in November, then no genuinely socialist presidential candidate will appear on the ballot,” the lawsuit said.
The suit asks the judge to stop the state from enforcing its rules and order Kishore and Santa Cruz’s names on to the ballot. Barring that, the suit asks the judge to order the state to lower the signature threshold, waive rules regarding geographic distributions of signatures, extend the July 16 deadline for turning in signatures and allow for online signature gathering.
The Socialist Equality Party seeks to end capitalism, establish a "workers' government" and is affiliated with the International Committee of the Fourth International, which was founded by Soviet communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
Kishore, 40, has been the party's national secretary since 2008 and indicates on the party's website he became "politically radicalized by the Clinton administration’s war against Serbia."
Several candidates and ballot petition committees have sued over the signature collection rules in recent weeks, arguing the requirements are impossibly high during a pandemic forcing people to stay home. Most recently, Eric Esshaki, a Congressional candidate for the 11th district, was given leeway for signature collection on those grounds.
The Socialist Equality Party has been headquartered in Detroit since 1978 and qualified for the Michigan ballot in House races in 2006 and 2018 and for Detroit mayor in 2013, according to the lawsuit.
The group argued that socialism is growing in popularity in the U.S. and, as such, the lawsuit defending ballot access for candidates representing those ideals “is in the public interest.”
Kishore and Santa Cruz referenced independent Attorney General candidate Chris Graveline’s 2018 case, in which he also challenged the rules requiring at least 30,000 signatures. The federal judge eventually allowed him to gather 12,000 signatures, and Graveline appeared on the ballot that year, but finished behind Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel and Republican candidate Tom Leonard.
The judge’s order in that case would only expire if and when the Michigan Legislature enacted a permanent correction, “which as of the filing of this case appears never to have happened,” the lawsuit said.
The Socialist Equality Party's lawsuit asks the judge to go further than the 12,000-signature benchmark by enforcing no signature requirement in light of the pandemic or at the least a “nominal number.”
“Defendants' failure to waive or reduce the signature gathering requirements placed the plaintiffs and their supporters in the position of choosing between, on the one hand, risking criminal prosecution, infection and death by attempting to collect signatures during the pandemic, or on the other hand, abandoning their efforts to participate in the elections in Michigan,” the lawsuit said.