Peace and Freedom Party

California's Feminist Socialist Political Party

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PFP-initiated election bill signed into law

By Bob Richard

Posted on September 25, 2014 by the the Communications Committee

On August 22, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2233, which reduces the number of petition signatures required to avoid paying filing fees in special elections to fill vacancies. In special elections, the time available to collect signatures is shorter than in regular elections -- sometimes as short as a couple of days. AB 2233 makes the number of signatures-in-lieu proportional to the time available to collect them.

AB 2233 passed the Assembly by a vote of 70-3 on May 27. It passed the Senate 30-3 and was sent to the Governor on August 7.

In the 2014 June election, candidates had 55 days to collect signatures in lieu of filing fees. In special elections, the time available depends on when the Governor calls the election. There is no minimum number of days. The filing fees and number of signatures vary by office:

  • Candidates for statewide office and U.S. Senate need 10,000 signatures in lieu of fees ranging from $2,610 to $3,480.
  • Candidates for the Board of Equalization need 5,220 signatures in lieu of the filing fee of $1,305.
  • Candidates for State Senate and U.S. House need 3,000 signatures in lieu of fees ranging from $953 to $1,740.
  • Candidates for the Assembly need 1,500 signatures in lieu of the filing fee of $953.
Each valid signature reduces the filing fee proportionately, so candidates can qualify by any combination of signatures and fees.

Collecting these signatures in 55 days is hard. Collecting them in 2 or 3 days is impossible. AB 2233 provides that the number of signatures in lieu will be directly proportional to the number of days available to collect them, except that it will never be less than 100 signatures.

This bill might seem like a relatively minor improvement to the state's election law. But it has a double significance for the Peace and Freedom Party.

First, most of our candidates are -- like the voters we represent -- working people. We are unable to pay high filing fees, which are assessed on top of the fees for statements in the statewide and county voter guides and sample ballots mailed to all voters. The cost of running for public office is a very practical issue for us as well as a matter of political principle. In addition, running in special elections to fill vacancies is a good opportunity for small party and independent candidates because they sometimes get more media attention than in regular elections.

Second, the bill's author, Republican Tim Donnelly of Hesperia, got the idea from us. It was one of a number of proposals in a list drafted by the chair of our Legislative Committee, C. T. Weber, for discussions with members of the Legislature (including Donnelly, who served on the Assembly Elections Committee this year) and the office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Representatives of the Libertarian and Green parties were also actively involved in this process.

These discussions also led to the introduction of AB 2351, which reduces the requirements for parties to stay on the ballot to adapt them to Top Two elections. That bill, introduced by Democrat Richard Gordon, is now on the Governor's desk awaiting his signature.

The Peace and Freedom Party's work on the issue of prohibitively high filing fees goes back to 1972, when there was no provision at all for signatures in lieu. Prospective candidates either paid the fees or didn't run. In February of that year, a Peace and Freedom Party member named Don Lubin attempted to qualify for the June primary election for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors but was unable to pay the $702 filing fee for that office. With Peace and Freedom Party supporter Marge Buckley as his attorney, he filed a class action suit against the economically discriminatory fees.

Two years later, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court found that "[t]he absence of any alternative means of gaining access to the ballot inevitably renders the California system exclusionary as to some aspirants" and reversed a series of lower court rulings. It noted that

... a candidate who establishes that he cannot pay the filing fee required for a place on the primary ballot may be required to demonstrate the "seriousness" of his candidacy by persuading a substantial number of voters to sign a petition in his behalf. The point, of course, is that ballot access must be genuinely open to all, subject to reasonable requirements. Lubin v. Panish, 415 U.S. 709 (1974)
The California Legislature responded by adding detailed provisions for signatures-in-lieu of filing fees to the Elections Code as Section 8106. Until the passage of Proposition 14 in 2010, these requirements were basically fair to small party candidates, who needed signatures from members of their own parties very roughly proportional to party membership in their districts. But they were not nearly as fair to indigent members of the Republican and Democratic parties and independent candidates, who needed unreasonably large numbers of signatures.

Legislation adopted to implement Top Two elections under Prop. 14 changed that (AB 1413 passed in 2012). Now, all candidates, regardless of party, need the same -- unreasonably large -- number of signatures, as described earlier in this article. Signatures can now be from any registered voter with regard to party affiliation.

The Peace and Freedom Party's legislative agenda for next year includes improvements to signatures in lieu of filing fees in regular elections. The current requirements value signatures to run for Governor at about 35 cents each, signatures to run for the Board of Equalization at only 25 cents each, and signatures to run for Assembly at about 64 cents each. This is far less than the cost of collecting them. Petition campaigns often pay up to $2 per signature. That is a better basis for determining the number of signatures that should be required to get on the ballot.

Bob Richard is a member of the State Central Committee from Marin County, a member of the Legislative Committee, and the party's webmaster.


For more on signatures in lieu of filing fees, see

 
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