California primary election system challenged

[JURIST] Two prospective third party congressional candidates and six California voters filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] Thursday seeking to enjoin enforcement [motion, PDF] of Proposition 14 [text], which alters the primary election system, creating an open primary where only the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election. Proposition 14 was approved by voters last month [JURIST report] and changes elections to create a system in which all candidates for a state or federal office except for president would run in a single primary regardless of political affiliation. From this, only the two candidates with the most votes would appear on the ballot in the general election. The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of San Fransisco County [official website], challenges the constitutionality of two provisions, one which disallows state election officials from counting write-in ballots while still providing a space for write-ins, and one that only allows primary candidates to list their party affiliations if they are members of one of six parties qualified for the ballot by the state. The complaint alleges that the write-in provisions violate the free speech, due process and equal protection rights of voters under the US and California [texts] constitutions. In urging the court to issue an injunction against the enforcement of the law, the motion for preliminary injunction states:

California voters were lured into an insidious trap [by Proposition 14]. Eager to reform the way our elections are conducted, a slim majority of voters approved [it], which promised to "protect and preserve the right of every Californian to vote for the candidate of his or her choice." However, many voters did not know that by voting for Proposition 14, they were also approving ... a pernicious law that tramples on our fundamental right to vote and run for office[.] ... Because SB 6 now threatens to disenfranchise voters and muzzle candidates, time is of the essence. Unless this Court swiftly issues a preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs and similarly situated voters and candidates will suffer imminent and irreparable harm.
The Democratic, Republican and Green [party websites] parties of California, in addition to other third parties, have also been considering a lawsuit to enjoin enforcement of the law, which is set to go into effect in 2011.

In June, the proposition was approved by 53.7 percent [results] of voters. Supporters of the change have described it as necessary [LAT report] to alleviate the strong ideological opposition in the state legislature [official website]. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger [official website], who included the ballot initiative in his 2010 budget, praised the measure [statement], describing it as a sign of a "sweeping change." The new primary system immediately faced heavy criticism from third parties. The Green Party of California described the new system [press release] as designed to "keep dissenting voices off the ... November ballot." Proposition 14 was based largely on the system used in Washington state, which was implemented there in 2004 after the passage of Initiative 872 [text, PDF]. In 2008, the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] upheld Washington's primary election system [JURIST report] as constitutional against a First Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder] challenge, overturning a contrary decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website]. Louisiana has a similar system, but, under that system, a candidate who garners over 50 percent of the vote in the primary will forgo the general election.

 

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