Political parties don’t have a fundamental right to appear on the North Carolina ballot, according to a judge’s ruling today. (Read the order: PDF, 116 KB.)

Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled against the Libertarian and Green parties, which had sued the State Board of Elections, contending the signature requirements to get on the ballot were onerous and unconstitutional.

“We’re deeply saddened by this ruling,” said Barbara Howe, Libertarian Party of North Carolina chair, in a prepared statement. “Not only did the judge support the State’s power to take away our right to choose who represents us, he also upheld the State’s assertion that North Carolina voters are not smart enough to fill out a so-called long ballot.”

North Carolina has one of the most restrictive ballot access laws in the nation. Currently, third parties must collect more than 67,000 valid signatures to be listed on the ballot. That is the equivalent to 2 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election. The Libertarian Party successfully collected about 79,000 valid signatures to be on the fall ballot, but the effort took four years and cost nearly $140,000.

The Green Party has never appeared on the North Carolina ballot.

In testimony at trial earlier this month, Howe, who has run for several offices, including governor, as a Libertarian, argued that number could increase to at least 80,000 signatures due to an increased voter turnout in this election, and the state’s population growth.

In the Hobgood’s order, he wrote the state has a “compelling interest” in requiring a “preliminary modicum of support before recognizing a political party and placing its candidates on the ballot.”

The state contended that relaxing the ballot access laws would cause voter confusion and would clutter the ballot. Ten Council of State races appear on the ballot, and those offices are elected the same years as the president and vice president of the United States.

Hobgood agreed, ruling that “the more parties there are that are recognized by the State and that place candidates on the ballot, the greater chance there is for ballots that are so long as to be unwieldy and to risk voter confusion and frustration of the electoral process.”

Elena Everett, chair of the N.C. Green Party, said it is likely the groups will appeal the decision. “I think the [judge’s ruling] was motivated in that they don’t want to rock the boat and let people on ballot this fall. We had really strong arguments. I’m disappointed.”