By Bob Egelko
San Francisco Chronicle
A federal appeals court reinstated a free-speech lawsuit Monday by an Assembly candidate who belongs to the Socialist Party USA but had to list his party affiliation on the primary election ballot as “none” under California law.
That designation, required for candidates from every party except the six largest, could mislead the voters, said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Requiring then-Assembly candidate Emidio Soltysik to list his party as “none” on the 2014 ballot “suggests that Soltysik, an avowed socialist, has no political preferences, affiliations, or beliefs, which is simply untrue,” Judge John Owens said in the 2-1 ruling. He said the designation also suggests, perhaps wrongly, that Soltysik has no preference among the six ballot-qualified parties.
The court overturned a federal judge’s ruling that dismissed Soltysik’s suit on the grounds that the ballot label was a minor burden justified by the state’s need to prevent voter confusion and “frivolous or fraudulent candidacies.” Monday’s ruling, if it stands, will require further proceedings to determine whether the law violates freedom of speech.
“We want voters to know who they’re voting for,” said Brendan Hamme, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing Soltysik. Particularly for down-ballot offices such as legislative seats, he said, voters are “looking for candidates whose views align with their own” and would be aided by learning their party affiliation....