479 U.S. 189 (1986), 85-656, Munro, Secretary of State of Washington v. Socialist Workers Party

Docket Nº:No. 85-656
Citation:479 U.S. 189, 107 S.Ct. 533, 93 L.Ed.2d 499, 55 U.S.L.W. 4052
Party Name:Munro, Secretary of State of Washington v. Socialist Workers Party
Case Date:December 10, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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479 U.S. 189 (1986)

107 S.Ct. 533, 93 L.Ed.2d 499, 55 U.S.L.W. 4052

Munro, Secretary of State of Washington

v.

Socialist Workers Party

No. 85-656

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 10, 1986

Argued October 7, 1986

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

A Washington statute (§ 29.18.110) requires that a minor party candidate for office receive at least 1% of all votes cast for that office in the State's primary election before the candidate's name will be placed on the general election ballot. Appellee Peoples qualified to be placed on the primary election ballot as the nominee of appellee Socialist Workers Party (Party) for United States Senator. At the primary, he received less than 1% of the total votes cast for the office, and, accordingly, his name was not placed on the general election ballot. Peoples, the Party, and appellee registered voters then brought an action in Federal District Court, alleging that § 29.18.110 violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that § 29.18.110, as applied to candidates for statewide offices, was unconstitutional.

Held: Section 29.18.110 is constitutional. Pp. 193-199.

(a) States have a right to require candidates to make a preliminary showing of substantial support in order to qualify for a place on the ballot. Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431; American Party of Texas v. White, 415 U.S. 767. Pp. 193-194.

(b) The fact that Washington's political history evidences no voter confusion from ballot overcrowding does not require invalidation of § 29.18.110. A State is not required to prove actual voter confusion, ballot overcrowding, or the presence of frivolous candidates as a predicate to imposing reasonable ballot access restrictions. In any event, the record in this case discloses that enactment of § 29.18.110 was, in fact, linked to the legislature's perception that the general election ballot was becoming cluttered with minor party candidates who did not command significant voter support, and the State was clearly entitled to raise the ante for ballot access, to simplify the general election ballot, and to avoid the possibility of unrestrained factionalism at the general election. Pp. 194-196.

(c) The burdens imposed on appellees' First Amendment rights by § 29.18.110 are not too severe to be justified by the State's interest in restricting access to the general ballot. Pp. 196-197.

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(d) The differences between requiring primary votes to qualify for a position on the general election ballot and requiring signatures on nominating petitions are not of constitutional dimension. Pp. 197-198.

(e) There is no merit to appellees' argument that, since voter turnout at primary elections is generally lower than the turnout at general elections, § 29.18.110 has reduced the pool of potential supporters from which appellee Party candidates can secure 1% of the vote. The statute creates no impediment to voting at primary elections, and does no more than require a [107 S.Ct. 535] candidate to show a "significant modicum" of voter support in primary elections. P. 198.

(f) Section 29.18.110 serves to promote the very First Amendment values that are threatened by overly burdensome ballot access restrictions. Washington's voters are not denied freedom of association because they must channel their expressive activity into a campaign at the primary as opposed to the general election. Pp. 198-199.

765 F.2d 1417, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 200.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The State of Washington requires that a minor party candidate for partisan office receive at least 1% of all votes cast for that office in the State's primary election before the candidate's name will be placed on the general election ballot. The question for decision is whether this statutory requirement,

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as applied to candidates for statewide offices, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declared the provision unconstitutional. 765 F.2d 1417 (1985). We reverse.

In 1977, the State of Washington enacted amendments to its election laws, changing the manner in which candidates from minor political parties qualify for placement on the general election ballot. Before the amendments, a minor party candidate did not participate in the State's primary elections, but rather sought his or her party's nomination at a party convention held on the same day as the primary election for "major" parties.1 The convention-nominated, minor party candidate secured a position on the general election ballot upon the filing of a certificate signed by at least 100 registered voters who had participated in the convention and who had not voted in the primary election.2 The 1977 amendments retained the requirement that a minor party candidate be nominated by convention,3 but imposed the additional requirement that, as a precondition to general ballot access, the nominee for an office appear on the primary election ballot and receive at least 1% of all votes cast for that particular office

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at the primary election. Wash. Rev. Code § 29.18.110 (1985).4

Washington conducts a "blanket primary" at which registered voters may vote for any candidate of their choice, irrespective [107 S.Ct. 536] of the candidates' political party affiliation.5 A candidate seeking placement on the primary election ballot must declare his candidacy no earlier than the last Monday in July, and no later than the following Friday.6 Minor party nominating conventions are to be held on the Saturday preceding this filing period.7 The primary election is held on the third Tuesday in September.8

The events giving rise to this action occurred in 1983, after the state legislature authorized a special primary election to be held on October 11, 1983, to fill a vacancy in the office of United States Senator. Appellee Dean Peoples qualified to be placed on the primary election ballot as the nominee of appellee Socialist Workers Party (Party). Also appearing on that ballot were 32 other candidates. At the primary, Mr. Peoples received approximately nine one-hundredths of one percent of the total votes cast for the office,9 and, accordingly, the State did not place his name on the general election ballot.

Appellees (Peoples, the Party, and two registered voters) commenced this action in United States District Court, alleging that § 29.18.110 abridged their rights secured by the First

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and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court entered judgment denying appellees relief, but the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that § 29.18.110, as applied to candidates for statewide offices, was unconstitutional. The State filed a timely appeal with this Court, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 474 U.S. 1049 (1986).

Restrictions upon the access of political parties to the ballot impinge upon the rights of individuals to associate for political purposes, as well as the rights of qualified voters to cast their votes effectively, Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 30 (1968), and may not survive scrutiny under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In Williams v. Rhodes, for example, we held unconstitutional the election laws of Ohio insofar as in combination they made it virtually impossible for a new political party to be placed on the ballot, even if the party had hundreds of thousands of adherents. These associational rights, however, are not absolute, and are necessarily subject to qualification if elections are to be run fairly and effectively. Storer v. Brown, 415 U.S. 724, 730 (1974).

While there is no "litmus-paper test" for deciding a case like this, ibid., it is now clear that States may condition access to the general election ballot by a minor party or independent candidate upon a showing of a modicum of support among the potential voters for the office. In Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431 (1971), the Court unanimously rejected a challenge to Georgia's election statutes that required independent candidates and minor party candidates, in order to be listed on the general election ballot, to submit petitions signed by at least 5% of the voters eligible to vote in the last election for the office in question. Primary elections were held only for those political organizations whose candidate received 20% or more of the vote at the last gubernatorial or Presidential election. The Court's opinion observed that

[t]here is surely an important state interest in requiring some preliminary showing of a significant modicum of support before printing the name of a political organization's candidate

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on the ballot -- the interest, if no other, in avoiding confusion, deception, and even frustration of the democratic process at the general election.

Id. at 442. And, in American Party of Texas v. White, 415 U.S. 767 (1974), [107 S.Ct. 537] candidates of minor political parties in Texas were required to demonstrate support by persons numbering at least 1% of the total vote cast for Governor at the last preceding general election. Candidates could secure the requisite number of petition signatures at precinct nominating conventions and by supplemental petitions following the conventions. Voters signing these supplemental petitions had to swear under oath that they had not participated in another party's primary election or nominating...

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