Judge Rules California Unfairly Limited Third Parties Access to Ballot

Thursday, November 01, 2012

When the Arizona secretary of state threatened to keep Barack Obama off the November 6 presidential ballot because of “birther” arguments that he hadn't proven his American citizenship, it hlghighted a quirk in the electoral process that each state gets to write its own rules dictating what a political party must do to qualify its candidate for the presidential ballot.

Although President Obama survived the Arizona challenge, third parties in California could not get past a rule that requires qualification for the ballot 135 days before the primary election. But now, a federal judge has ruled that California's rules are unconstitutionally restrictive and must be changed. The judge's ruling comes too late to help parties that didn't make the ballot this year.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson handed down his decision after the California Justice Party, the Constitution Party of California and three registered voters filed a federal complaint in May about the deadline.

“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,” Anderson wrote in his decision.

California is not the only state where third parties found the going rough this year. The Republican Party, fearing a loss of votes to the Libertarian and Constitution parties, has waged legal battles across the country to limit their presence. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson was challenged in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio and the District of Columbia.

His place on the Ohio ballot wasn't assured until September, and Pennsylvania wasn't nailed down until October, making the Libertarians the only minor party to gain access in all 50 states. The Libertarian Party characterized the Pennsylvania effort as overcoming “Republicans who waged a grueling and expensive 9-week battle to force their Libertarian Party competition off the November ballot.”

-Ken Broder

To Learn More:

California Election Law Mistreated New Parties (by Maria Dinzeo, Courthouse News Service)

California’s Deadline for Political Parties Seeking to Put Candidates on the Ballot Is Unconstitutional (American Civil Liberties Union)

GOP Suing to Keep Third Parties Off Ballot in November (by Joe Wolverton, The New American)

For Third-Party Candidates, Playing Field Is Uneven by State (by Paul Singer, USA Today)

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