Ninth Circuit Hears Arguments over Ballot Labels in California

Found in Ballot Access News
 

On February 13, the Ninth Circuit heard arguments in Chamness v Maldonado, 11-56303, over California’s law on partisan labels on the ballot in congressional elections and elections for partisan state office. California law puts party labels on the ballot if the candidate is registered in a qualified party, but all other candidates must have “no party preference” on the ballot. This is true for independent candidates, and also for candidates who are registered members of unqualified parties. The lower court had upheld this law.

The panel seemed unpersuaded that the U.S. Constitution requires states to permit all candidates to list their party of registration on the ballot, but they also seemed to feel that the mandatory label “no party preference” is not fair to candidates who hold themselves out as independent candidates. They also had some sympathy for members of unqualified parties who are not accurately described by that label. Judge Paul Watford suggested that requiring candidates to have “no party preference” is a form of forced speech, and such candidates should at least have the option to have no ballot label whatsoever. He also suggested that the label “Not affiliated with a qualified party” would be more accurate.

Judge Marsha Berzon was interested in the fact that California law recognizes “political bodies”. A “political body” is a group that has elected state officers, has filed the names of these officers with the state, and has notified the Secretary of State that it is trying to qualify. This point is important because it shows that unqualified parties in California do exist and do have a structure.

The attorney for the California Secretary of State said that it is easy to qualify a new party in California, a statement that is not true. Except for Americans Elect, no new party has qualified in California since 1995. California requires more registrations to get a newly-qualifying party on the ballot than any other state even requires signatures on a petition. Currently, California requires 103,008 registered members, or 1,030,080 valid signatures, whereas no other state requires more than 89,340 valid signatures. Furthermore, the deadline for qualifying a new party in California was held unconstitutional last year. No legislator so far has been willing to introduce a bill to replace the old law.

Here is a link to the audio for the hearing, which lasts about 45 minutes. Thanks to Mike Feinstein for the link.

8 thoughts on “Ninth Circuit Hears Arguments over Ballot Labels in California

  1. Jill Pyeatt

    I attended this session, and found it to be fascinating. One of the judges kept trying to get the SOS’s attorney to explain what benefit there was to the state of California to compel candidates to provide inaccurate information, and the attorney couldn’t. He kept saying things like: “Oh, we need to maintain order in elections”, and other nonsensical explanations, but it was obvious the attorney didn’t know what benefit there was to the state. It was great.

    He actually said something about controlling propaganda, but I didn’t catch the whole statement. Was he actually trying to say that the views of people not in registered parties were propaganda? I should try to listen to the recording to see if I can hear it more clearly.

  2. Jill Pyeatt

    It was a great learning experience, Richard. I’m glad you wrote this article because I didn’t understand what was going on enough to write it.

  3. Mark Seidenberg

    Jill Payett

    I was in court in Las Vegas, so I could not get to
    Pasadena. Did the three judges or or the attorneys on either side discuss the use of the
    word “Independent” as part of the name “American Independent Party” in reference
    to California Election Code 20007?

    Chamness wanted to use “Independent” on the
    ballot with his name listed. The word “Independent” is part of the name “American Independent” and Mr. Chamness is not affilated with the American
    Independent Party of California.

    Election Code section 20007 is very clear to me.
    As I see it, Mr. Chamness is out there to confuse
    the California Electors. There are 477,129 California Electors at last count that have a right
    to prevent Mr. Chamness from his use of part of the name of the “American Independent Party”.
    “Independent” is part of the name of the American Independent Party. I am the Chairman of the Orange County Central Committee and the Vice Chairman of the State
    Central Committee of the American Independent
    Party and I will protect the property rights of the
    AIP in the Superior Court in Los Angeles County,
    if Dean Logan let’s Mr. Chamness use the word
    “Independent” for his party affiliation under Election Code section 20007!

    Sincerely, Mark Seidenberg, Vice Chairman,
    American Independent Party of California &
    Chairman, Orange County Central Committee
    of the American Independent Party.

  4. Richard Winger

    Hi Mark, not a word was said about the American Independent Party. The attorney for Debra Bowen (Secretary of State) and the attorney for the pro-Prop. 14 apparently don’t think that is a winning argument. You can listen to the entire 45 minute hearing via the link to the 9th circuit’s audio.

  5. Nick

    You have no idea how much I wish for the courts to overturn that law. It would be helpful for a lot of alternative party candidates.

  6. Markham Robinson

    “Judge Paul Watford suggested that requiring candidates to have “no party preference” is a form of forced speech, and such candidates should at least have the option to have no ballot label whatsoever. He also suggested that the label “Not affiliated with a qualified party” would be more accurate.”

    I couldn’t agree more with the Judge in this case. This is almost exactly what I’ve been saying about this case. I predict that the court will allow a more accurate characterization on the ballot which will not be a party name other than a “ballot qualified” party name. If the Court allowed political bodies’ names for instance to be used adjacent to a candidate’s name, it would negate the State’s intention to provide a special privilege to substantial political associations which it seems the panel thought was the State’s right.

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