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SAN FRANCISCO — A lawsuit was filed today seeking an injunction to stop the state of California from implementing Senate Bill 6 (SB 6), the law that carries out Proposition 14 (Top-Two Open Primary Act).
The court documents are available for download at http://businessandelectionlaw.com/sb6
The complaint, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, argues SB 6 is unconstitutional because the law:
1. Disenfranchises voters since any vote cast for a write-in candidate will not be counted in the general election.
2. Unfairly censors and discriminates against candidates from political organizations that do not qualify as a “state-recognized” party. SB 6 allows only the state-recognized parties to appear on the ballot. Candidates who choose to not identify with a state-recognized party are only allowed to state that they have “No Party Preference” on the ballot.
“The voters of California are victims of a legislative bait-and-switch. The law that is going into effect – SB 6 – reneges on key promises made by Prop 14,” said Gautam Dutta, attorney representing the plaintiffs. “This complaint challenges the constitutional defects of SB 6, the law that implements Prop 14.”
The complaint is filed on behalf of six plaintiffs: Mona Field, a registered voter in Los Angeles County; Richard Winger, a registered voter in San Francisco County; Stephen A. Chessin, a registered voter in Santa Clara County; Jennifer Wozniak, a registered voter in Orange County; Jeff Mackler, a registered voter in Alameda County and a candidate affiliated with Socialist Action, a “non-qualified” political organization; and Rodney Martin, a registered voter in Tulare County and candidate affiliated with the Reform Party, a “non-qualified” political organization.
Statements from the Plaintiffs:
“SB 6 is a hastily and poorly written law that was the result of a political backroom deal to secure the tie-breaking vote to pass the 2009 state budget,” said Steve Chessin, a registered Santa Clara County voter who is also the president of Californians for Electoral Reform. “The disconnect between SB 6 and Prop 14 demonstrate either sloppy work by the Legislature or an intentional campaign to deceive voters into approving Prop 14.”
“SB 6 misleads voters. By not counting write-in votes after allowing voters to cast them, SB 6 will trick people into throwing away their votes,” said Jennifer Wozniak, a registered voter in Orange County.
“SB 6 marginalizes candidates from smaller political organizations,” said Rodney Martin, who is a member of the Reform Party of California. “When I run for office and if this suit is not successful, I won’t be allowed to identify myself as a member of the Reform Party on the ballot, because it is not a state-recognized political party. The ballot will only show “No Party Preference” next to my name.”
“The law gives candidates from established political parties an unfair advantage,” said Mona Field, a political science professor and an expert on California government.
On July 28, two congressional candidates (in the 2012 election) and four voters filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in San Francisco, arguing that two aspects of the California top-two system are unconstitutional, as applied to them. The case is Field v Bowen, cgc10-502018. Here is the complaint. Here is the brief.
The California Constitution was amended in 2002 to provide that all valid votes must be counted. Nevertheless, the implementing language for California’s Proposition 14 says that write-in votes in November, for Congress and state office, may never be counted. Proposition 14 and its implementing law, SB 6, did not repeal the law that says write-in space must be printed on the ballot in November for those offices. Nor did Prop. 14 and SB 6 repeal the law that provides that write-in candidates in November may file a declaration of write-in candidacy.
The voter plaintiffs say it is very likely, given the limited number of candidates on the ballot in future general elections in California (only two candidates per office), that they will want to cast a write-in vote in November, and they want their write-ins counted.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court said in Burdick v Takushi in 1992 that states may abolish write-in space on ballots, it has also ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects the right of voters to have their votes counted.
The two candidate-plaintiffs are Rodney Martin, who is a registered member of the Reform Party, and Jeff Mackler, who is a registered member of Socialist Action Party. They wish to run for Congress in 2012, and they want their party to be printed on the primary ballot next to their names. But Prop. 14 and SB 6 provide that only candidates who are registered members of qualified parties may have their party “preference” on the ballot. Martin and Mackler have no choice but to have “no party preference” printed on the ballot next to their names. Disclosure: one of the voter plaintiffs is Richard Winger.