PHOENIX -- Absent a federal court order, Arizonans may not get to cast their ballots this year for any Green Party candidates.
Party officials missed Thursday's deadline to turn in sufficient signatures on petitions to maintain their status as a recognized party. That leaves Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and the Americans Elect as the only ones guaranteed to have a place on the ballot for their candidates.
The problem for the Green Party is that state law requires a political party to have at least 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor or president in the most recent statewide election. In this case, the computation against the 2012 presidential race required the Green Party to have 21,499 people registered.
The last voter count in 2013 had just 5,601 Green Party adherents. So Secretary of State Ken Bennett declared them ineligible for ballot status.
That still left the party with one options: Submit sufficient 23,041 valid signatures on petitions to requalify for the ballot by Thursday. That did not happen.
Now an attorney for the party has asked a federal judge for more time.
Legal papers filed in U.S. District Court here claim that Feb. 27 deadline -- 180 days before the primary -- is illegal.
On one hand, the lawsuit says that date is "one of the earliest deadlines in the country.'
At the same time, Angel Torres, the party's chairman, said the state's method of computing needed signatures results in an ever-increasing burden. He said the party needed only about 20,000 signatures just four years earlier.
Torres also said that two decades ago the deadline was in May. And at that time the Secretary of State's Office would have to verify all signatures; now all that's checked is a random sample, something that should take less time to handle, not more.
"The early deadline is unduly burdensome and invidiously discriminatory and not designed to allow a reasonable diligent minor party organization to qualify for the ballot,' wrote attorney Robert Barnes who represents the party in the lawsuit.
Barnes is asking U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake to extend the deadline until June.
Torres told Capitol Media Services the party is "very close' now to the number of signatures it needs but wants to build in a cushion in case some are found invalid.
Torres said he sees the signature requirements and filing deadlines as efforts by the two major parties, who control all the seats in the Legislature, to keep other parties from putting their candidates on the ballot and potentially siphoning votes away.
Matt Roberts, spokesman for Secretary of State Ken Bennett, said his office does not comment on pending lawsuits.
No date has been set for a court hearing.