Monday, October 22, 2012
U.S. Judge Strikes Down Early Ballot Deadline for New Parties
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A state law requiring new political parties to qualify for the general election ballot more than four months before the primary is unconstitutional, a U.S. district judge has ruled.
Judge Percy Anderson Thursday granted a declaratory judgment and permanent injunction barring the state from enforcing a provision of Elections Code Sec. 5100 that requires all new parties to qualify at least 135 days before the June primary.
To meet that deadline, the parties’ voters must be registered at least 154 days before the primary, because the registration forms have to be tallied by the county registrars and numbers sent to the secretary of state. Similarly early deadlines in other states have been struck down by the courts, Anderson noted.
The judge found that the early deadline inhibits the democratic process and is not needed for effective administration of the election. He pointed out that the state uses a much later deadline, in August, for independent candidates.
“The Secretary of State has not proffered a sufficient or credible justification for the party-qualification deadline in California Elections Code [Sec.] 5100, let alone evidence that the timing requirement is ‘narrowly drawn’ to justify the severe restrictions it places on Plaintiffs and other voters and political bodies,” Anderson said in his order.
First Amendment Argument
Two small political parties filed suit in May. The Justice Party and the Constitution Party both said the requirement was unduly restrictive, and violated their rights under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.
“Although the Plaintiffs in this action come from different places on the ideological spectrum and may fundamentally disagree on important issues, they share the belief that the state of California must abide by the American ideal that political ideas should compete on equal terms in a free and open political process,” the plaintiffs said in their complaint.
Both parties, and the individual members who joined in the suit, were represented by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.
The plaintiffs claimed that the threshold requirement—increasing their registration totals to one percent of the number of people who voted in the 2010 general election, or about 103,000—was extremely onerous when combined with the fact that it had to be met 10 months before the election. The individual plaintiffs argue that they had no opportunity to study the parties’ positions before the deadline, especially since the Justice Party was just formed last November.
The Justice Party’s founder and presidential candidate is Rocky Anderson, a former mayor of Salt Lake City who once led a drive to impeach then-President George W. Bush. The Constitution Party holds conservative views and was founded in the 1970s by Howard Phillips, a onetime anti-poverty official in the Nixon administration.
It recently selected Virgil Goode, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, as its candidate for president.
The two parties were among 15 that unsuccessfully attempted to qualify this year, according to documents on the Secretary of State website. Neither party had as many as 200 members at the Jan. 3 deadline, those documents showed. Among the other parties that unsuccessfully attempted to qualify for the California ballot this year, the largest is the Reform Party, with a little over 20,000 members.
Only one new party, Americans Elect, qualified for the ballot this year. That party eschewed the registration route, gaining more than one million signatures on petitions.
To do that, the plaintiffs noted, Americans Elect, which had significant financial resources that the Justice and Constitution parties say they have not access to, had to hire professional signature gatherers. The party does not have a presidential candidate, however, because its backers pulled the plug following what they said was an inadequate level of participation in its online candidate selection process.
Judge Anderson issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the statute in May, but left it up to the secretary of state to set a new deadline. The issue became moot as to this year’s ballot, because as of Sept. 7, the last reporting date for this year, the Constitution Party had only 252 members and the Justice Party only 237.
News reports said Goode is on the ballot in 26 states, and has qualified as an official write-in candidate in California. Rocky Anderson’s new party has had difficulty gaining ballot access, but he has used existing third parties to qualify in more than a dozen states.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company