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Ballot Law Commission Grants Libertarian Candidate a Spot in N.H. House Special Election

Prospective Libertarian House candidate John Babiarz, of Grafton, took his case to the Ballot Law Commission. The commission granted him access in an upcoming primary.

Last fall, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire reached an important milestone: They managed to get 4 percent of the vote in the governor’s race, giving them official party status and a place on New Hampshire ballots. But a snag for one candidate seeking to run in the House special election highlights the fact that many of the state election laws were still built for a two-party system.

When a House seat opened up in Grafton, John Babiarz wanted to run as a Libertarian in the upcoming special election. The problem? When he went to register, he says the town clerk blocked him from changing his party registration from undeclared and filing necessary paperwork to be on the ballot.

In a normal election cycle, the law gives voters a chance to change their party affiliation before the filing period for a primary election.

“Typically before an election season starts, there is an opportunity for voters to meet with the Supervisors of the Checklist and change their party affiliation before the filing period opens,” Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan explained. “That gives the voter an opportunity to become a candidate in the party they want, but also any voter’s party affiliation is locked in from the filing period until after the primary election.”

But Babiarz’s case highlighted a gap in the state law for special elections: The window of time between when an election’s called and when the filing period starts is much narrower and doesn’t allow for the same flexibility for candidates like him to change party status.

“In this case of the special election, the governor and council set the date of the special election, and it’s done on a Wednesday. The filing period starts the following Monday. So there’s very little opportunity for the Supervisors of the Checklist to call a meeting together and properly advertise it.”

And what’s new about this process, both Scanlan and Babiarz noted, is the inclusion of another political party that wasn’t previously recognized.

“I think for too long, the two major parties had everything set. They were comfortable with it. But when you have a new party with special elections… They didn’t take that into consideration that a new party would just start ramping up new membership, people may have not changed over to have the valid thing to run like everybody else.”

On Tuesday, the state ballot law commission sided with Babiarz, ordering election officials to allow him to add his name to the ballot for the July 18 primary.

The commission said the law needs to be updated to fix the gap this case illustrates – something Babiarz hopes to have the chance to do, should he win his bid for the seat, as a Libertarian.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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