A federal appeals court has dismissed a challenge to a Virginia law prohibiting partisan labels on ballots in local elections. In an opinion published Tuesday, the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case brought by a group of Powhatan County Republicans and found the state has a legitimate interest in minimizing political partisanship in local races. “While party identifiers do not appear on the official ballot for Virginia’s local candidates, the candidates still have every other avenue by which to inform voters of this information,” Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote in the three-judge panel’s unanimous opinion affirming a lower court’s earlier ruling. “Political parties and their nominees are entirely free to publicize their association with each other.”
The plaintiffs argued the ballot rules serve little real purpose because, in many cases, local races are nonpartisan in name only and nothing in state law prevents political parties from nominating local candidates or making informal endorsements. The lack of party information on the ballot, they argued, only sows confusion.
The plaintiffs, the Powhatan County Republican Committee and four candidates it endorsed in a 2015 Board of Supervisors election, claimed the ballot rule violates constitutional rights to freedom of association and equal protection.