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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California Election Law Mistreated New Parties

(CN) - California's secretary of state cannot enforce an early party qualification deadline that burdens the constitutional rights of minority political parties, a federal judge ruled.

The rule bars new parties from appearing on the November ballot unless they can meet the requirements for qualification 135 days before the primary election, whether they intend to participate in the primary or not.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson found that these strict requirements cripple independent parties before they can get off the ground.

"Early qualification deadlines that require political bodies to organize in the year preceding the election hamper organizing efforts because new parties seldom have enough public support that early in the election season to comply with the requirement and there is seldom as much interest in politics that far before the heart of the election cycle in the summer and fall," Anderson wrote. "This is particularly true of new parties, like the Justice Party (which formed in December 2011), which not only have to organize but also make the public familiar with their platform."

Anderson added: "Plaintiffs have established that California's early party qualification deadline has caused, and will continue to cause, irreparable harm to political bodies and to voters seeking to cast their votes and to engage in the electoral process effectively in this and future Presidential elections."

The California Justice Party, the Constitution Party of California and three registered voters banded together in a May 2012 federal complaint against the law.

Unable to get enough voters to affiliate with them by Jan. 3, 2012, the parties said they were unfairly kept off the 2012 ballot.

"To the extent that California has a legitimate interest in assuring equal political

opportunities for all unqualified parties, refusing to establish a later party-qualification deadline, which would be open to all political bodies seeking formal recognition, does not advance that interest," Anderson wrote.

A June 30 deadline would have been more equitable, according to the ruling.

"Although California elections officials undoubtedly require a reasonable amount of time in advance of an election to certify that a candidate or party have satisfied the eligibility requirements for inclusion on the ballot and to prepare election materials, the evidence demonstrates that a June 30, 2012 deadline would have adequately served that legitimate interest during the current election cycle," Anderson wrote. "California does not have a legitimate interest in withholding formal recognition from political parties who satisfy the numeric threshold based primarily on voter support for the party's presidential nominee," he added.

Removing presidential election impediments in California against the Justice Party, the Constitution Party and other political bodies benefits the public, as it also affects the First Amendment rights of voters, according to the ruling.

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