Thursday, September 8, 2011
Brown Signs Bill Making Write-in Challenges to Judges Harder
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill increasing the number of signatures required to mount a write-in challenge to an incumbent judge of a superior court.
Brown Tuesday affixed his signature to AB 362 by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, whose son, Daniel Lowenthal, is a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
Under current law—Elections Code Sec. 8203—if an incumbent judge is unopposed for re-election at the end of the nominations period, that judge wins a new term, without appearing on the ballot, unless 100 voters sign a petition requesting an opportunity to vote for a write-in candidate.
More Signatures Needed
AB 362 will, beginning with next year’s elections, increase the signature requirement to 0.1 percent of the number of registered voters in the county, with a minimum requirement of 100 signatures and a maximum of 600.
Write-in challenges under current law are rare, and the few that occur usually involve token opposition. A unique exception occurred in Orange County in 2002, when Judge Ronald Kline was arrested for possession of child pornography, leading to a free-for-all in which 11 write-in candidates filed to run against him.
One of those candidates, John Adams, eventually won the seat after Kline, who finished behind Adams in the primary, was permitted to withdraw.
In support of the change, Lowenthal cited the circumstance of the 2008 primary, in which six judges with Spanish surnames were forced onto the ballot by the filing of petitions under Sec. 8203. While no one came forth to actually run against any of them as a write-in candidate, the incident became notorious when the sponsor of the petition drive acknowledged that the judges were targeted because of their ethnicity.
“While changing the signature requirement will not insure that such harassment is not repeated,” the Assembly member said, “a reasonable signature requirement will help insure a seriousness of purpose in each county, based upon size, and help avoid situations where signatures are submitted merely to force judge’s names onto ballots.”
Los Angeles is one of seven counties where the maximum requirement would apply, according to a legislative committee analysis.
The legislation was supported by the California Judges Association, Judicial Council, California Advocates, and the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials. No statements of opposition were submitted.
Similar legislation that would have required as many as 1,000 signatures to initiate write-in opposition was vetoed last year by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said the bill would have created too great an impediment to write-in candidacies.
In addition to the signature change, AB 362 requires write-in candidates for the superior court, as well as for certain county offices, to file a separate declaration affirming that they meet the legal qualifications for the office they are running for.
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