California Court of Appeals Issues Important Ruling About Presidential Candidate Ballot Access

Ballot Access News:

On October 25, the California State Court of Appeals issued a ruling in Keyes v Bowen, C062321, holding that state elections officials are not supposed to keep presidential candidates off the general election ballot because they may not meet the constitutional qualifications to hold the office. The lawsuit had been filed in 2008 by Alan Keyes, who had sued the California Secretary of State because she allegedly did not investigate whether Barack Obama meets the constitutional qualifications to be President.

The Court said, “An investigation of eligibility is best left to each political party, which presumably will conduct the appropriate background check or risk that its nominee’s election will be derailed by an objection in Congress, which is authorized to entertain and resolve the validity of objections following the submission of the electoral votes…The Secretary of State has no such discretion for the general election ballot. With respect to general elections, section 6901 directs that the Secretary of State must (“must” is in italics in the opinion) place on the ballot the names of the several political parties’ candidates…

“In any event, the truly absurd result would be to require each state’s election official to investigate and determine whether the proffered candidate met eligibility criteria of the United States Constitution, giving each the power to override a party’s selection of a presidential candidate. The presidential nominating process is not subject to each of the 50 states’ election officials independently deciding whether a presidential nominee is qualified, as this could lead to chaotic results.”

The opinion acknowledges that in 1968, California Secretary of State Frank Jordan determined that the Peace & Freedom Party presidential nominee, Eldridge Cleaver, should be kept off the ballot because Cleaver was under age 35, but the opinion says the fact that Jordan acted this way does not demonstrate that what he did was lawful.

This opinion will be useful in the future, when certain states try to say that some particular presidential or vice-presidential candidate must not be on the ballot because he or she was registered in the wrong party. For example, in 2004, Montana said that Peter Camejo could not be on the November ballot for vice-president because he was a registered Green Party member. Camejo and his running mate, Ralph Nader, did not sue to overturn that decision, but simply substituted another vice-presidential candidate in Montana. This decision would also assist the Socialist Workers Party if it again runs Roger Calero for President, as it did in 2008 and 2004. Calero is not a natural-born citizen.

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