The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday rejected challenges to Proposition 14, which established the “Top Two” election system used after the 2010 elections, and the measure’s implementing legislation. Senior U.S. District Judge James G. Carr of the Northern District of Ohio, sitting by designation, said there is no constitutional impediment to requiring candidates to list themselves as preferring a qualified political party, or as having “No Party Preference,” or to be listed without any statement about party preference at all. The Elections Code has since been amended to eliminate the blank-space option, so that all candidates are listed either by party or as “No Party Preference.” Proposition 14 replaced the state’s closed partisan primary election with an open primary in which the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, qualify for the general election.
One of the plaintiffs in the consolidated appeals decided Wednesday was Michael Chamness, a former congressional candidate who said he was forced to be listed as “No Party Preference” because election officials refused his request to be listed as “Independent.” This proposed “self-designation,” Carr explained, was rejected because Independent is not the name of a qualified political party.
There are currently seven qualified political parties in California—Democratic, Republican, American Independent, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, Green, and Americans Elect.
The appellate jurist agreed with U.S. District Judge Otis Wright of the Central District of California, who denied Chamness an injunction that would have allowed him to run with his chosen designation.
Carr said the law does not place a substantial burden on constitutional rights, because there is no significant difference between “Independent” and “No Party Preference.” Because there is not a substantial burden, he explained, strict scrutiny does not apply and the law must be upheld if the restriction on the candidate’s rights is rational, non-discriminatory, and supported by a substantial state interest.
The state does have such an interest, the judge said, in limiting the number and types of designations by which a candidate may be listed.
Full Article: Panel Rejects Challenges to ‘Top Two’ Election Laws.