Elections Laws Illegally Force Some Candidates to Falsely State “No Party Preference”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 8, 2015

Contact: Brendan Hamme at 714-450-3963, bhamme@aclusocal.org

(Los Angeles, CA) – California’s Elections Code discriminates against candidates affiliated with so-called “non-qualified” parties by forcing them to falsely state “Party Preference: None” on the ballot when they clearly prefer a political party, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and pro-bono attorneys charged in a lawsuit filed today.

The suit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, was brought on behalf of Emidio Soltysik, the National Male Co-Chair and California State Chair of the Socialist Party USA, and Jennifer McClellan, a member of the Party’s National Committee. It seeks an injunction allowing candidates affiliated with non-qualified parties the same right to list their party preference afforded to other candidates.

The code violates candidates’ First Amendment and Equal Protection rights, said Brendan Hamme, an ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) attorney. “Party affiliation is the single largest factor in how the vast majority of voters vote,” he said. “Yet candidates who associate with non-qualified parties are denied the ability to convey this vital information to voters on the ballot.”

The code, Hamme said, discriminates against non-qualified party candidates by targeting their speech for differential treatment based on their expression – their viewpoint in particular.

“The State cannot restrict the speech of candidates simply because of their political ideology and party affiliation,” he said.

Kevin J. Minnick, an attorney representing the plaintiffs pro bono, said the Elections Code “violates candidates’ rights to be free from coerced or government-compelled speech by forcing them to state that they have no preference when they definitely have a preference for a political party.”

Proposition 14, the 2010 ballot measure establishing the state’s Top Two Primary system, allows any voter to vote for any candidate regardless of their or the candidate’s party preference and indicates that all candidates should have the ability to declare their party preference.

Soltysik, a candidate for State Assembly last year, said he had to tell voters that he would not appear on the ballot as a Socialist but as a “Party Preference: None” candidate. That designation “added another level of skepticism to my campaign because in all my materials I say I am a Socialist,” he said.

“But on the ballot, my beliefs are not reflected,” he said. “I tell them the law does not allow me to display who I am and what I represent. Almost everybody was surprised that I was not allowed to represent who I am freely.”

READ THE COMPLAINT HERE

  • Greg Diamond

    I haven’t read the complaint, but my guess is that the party in question has not qualified for “recognized” status on the state ballot. If so, then it’s not a matter of viewpoint discrimination, but a matter of whether the state’s regulations are reasonable. Given that recognizing a party means also recognizing another “line” for them on many election documents, which becomes costly and unwieldy if every putative party can claim recognition despite lacking even a fairly minimal level of support, I suspect that this regulation would be held to be reasonable.