News

Primary winners go to court to get on ballot

A Republican Assembly candidate and the state Democratic party are fighting
for the right of several write-in primary winners across the state to have
their names placed on the general-election ballot in November.

At issue is whether new language added to the state constitution through the
passage of a 2004 initiative trumps a decades-old election code governing
the nomination of write-in candidates for office.

Raylene Wiesner, a housewife from Santa Rosa, received only 687 votes in the
Republican primary for Assembly District 7. But since the ballot contained
no names of candidates vying for a GOP nomination in the safely Democratic
district, Wiesner’s relatively measly vote-total was still more than any
other Republican in the district.

The Sonoma County and Napa County Republican parties submitted resolutions
to the secretary of state’s office sanctioning Wiesner’s nomination.

But because Wiesner’s vote-total was comprised entirely of write-in votes,
the secretary of state’s office refused to certify her nomination and would
not place her name on the general-election ballot in November.

Wiesner, a Republican, with support from the central committee of the state
Democratic party, is now planning to challenge that decision in state
appellate court after a Sacramento County judge rejected her petition to be
placed on the ballot.

If Wiesner’s appeal is unsuccessful, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa
Rosa, will run unopposed on the November ballot.

“I think everybody has a right to a choice. That’s what the whole democratic
process in this country is about,” said Wiesner.

The secretary’s office argued in denying her certification that Wiesner did
not meet elections code 8605a, which requires that write-in candidates
receive at least 1 percent of all the votes cast at the preceding general
election for the office they seek.

As 168,216 votes were cast in the 2004 election for Assembly District 7,
Wiesner needed 1,683 write-in votes to get her name on the ballot. She came
in 996 votes shy.

Wiesner and her attorney have countered that language introduced to the
Constitution through the passage of Proposition 60 overrides the disputed
elections code and gives Wiesner the constitutional right to have her name
on the ballot.

Proposition 60 initially was intended as an alternative measure to
Proposition 62, which would have transformed California’s primary-election
process into a “Louisiana-style” blanket primary in which only the two
leading vote-getters from the state’s primary elections, regardless of
political affiliation, would have their names placed on the general ballot.

Wiesner’s attorney John Flitner contends that any reasonable interpretation
of the new language gives his client the right to appear on the November
ballot.

“I don’t think you need all these legislative rules and regulations when
the constitution is clear on this issue,” Flitner said.

Although an unlikely bedfellow, the Democratic State Central Committee
(DSCC) is backing Wiesner in court. Three Democratic candidates for
Assembly, Senate, and U.S. Congress are in similar situations to
Wiesner–write-in winners of their respective primaries barred from the
general-election ballot because they did not meet the vote total required by
8605a.

Those candidates include Barbara Mead for state Senate District 38 in San
Diego and Orange County; Judith Jones for Assembly District 73, also in San
Diego and Orange County; and Mark Hull-Richter for U.S. House District 42 in
south Los Angeles and Orange County.

Despite repeated attempts by Wiesner to secure their support, the state
Republican party has declined to assist her in her efforts.

“We’re following the issue but I don’t believe write-in candidates are the
core party issue protected by Prop. 60. Prop. 60 preserved the right of
political parties to limit primary participation to registered voters of
that party, but most importantly against schemes like Prop. 198, the
so-called open primary,” said Joe Justin, political consultant for the
Assembly Republican Caucus.

When asked whether she believes Wiesner deserves her name on the ballot,
Assemblywoman Evans said she would have to learn more about the issue before
commenting publicly. The first-term incumbent enjoys a 25 percent
registration advantage in the district.

With such an overwhelming registration disparity, many wonder why Wiesner
and the DSCC bother with pursuing legal action when in all likelihood, they
will lose their respective election bids.

Richard Winger, editor of the monthly newsletter Ballot Access News, argues
that although Wiesner stands a slim chance of winning in November, placing
her name on the ballot would preserve political competition in a heavily
gerrymandered legislative landscape.

“I just believe in competition and get disgusted when we see so many
one-candidate elections in this county,” Winger said.


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