It’s hard to think of three words subject to more intense election-year scrutiny than the ones California candidates can include beneath their names on the ballot. Every two years, campaigns do battle with the California secretary of state – and one another – over whether or not the professional descriptions they pick are within the bounds of state law. This year has been no different, with more than a half-dozen congressional and statewide candidates forced to amend their “ballot designation,” as its known, before the certified list of candidates for the June primary was released March 29. It turns out, it’s a pretty unique election-year tradition.
A survey of election laws compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), could not find another state that allows the same kind of professional description of each candidate to appear on the ballot. Officials at the NCSL emphasized that their list is not exhaustive, but their findings were echoed by other election experts and political consultants queried by The Sacramento Bee.
“It was always quirky,” longtime Republican political consultant Carl Fogliani said. “I haven’t noticed it anywhere else.”
In fact, more than a dozen states explicitly prohibit a candidate’s professional information from appearing on the ballot, suggesting it could be deceptive or create an unfair advantage for some. North Carolina, for example, bars candidates from including any “title, appendage or appellation indicating rank, status, or position” with their name as it appears on the ballot and only allows “legitimate nicknames in ways that do not mislead the voter or unduly advertise the candidacy.” In Kansas, a candidate can include a nickname on the ballot only if they sign an affidavit that it is a “bona fide nickname and is not being used to gain an advantage on the ballot.”