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11 February 2013

Challenge to California’s top two law goes to Ninth Circuit Court

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case, Chamness v. Bowen, on 13 February 2013. District court decision. According to the plantiff’s attorney, Gautam Dutta at (where you can download the briefs), there are two main claims (paragraphs 3 & 4 below):

In Chamness v. Bowen, a number of candidates and voters have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals (Ninth Circuit) to decide whether the Top Two Primary’s implementing law is unconstitutional. In short, does the State have the power to force candidates to lie on the ballot, or to disenfranchise people who vote for write-in candidates?

The Ninth Circuit appeals court will devote a full 40 minutes of oral argument for Chamness — a large amount of time it reserves for only a small fraction of cases.

The Top Two Primary’s implementing law (Senate Bill 6 [PDF]) has violated the rights of Californians in two troubling ways. First, it violated the rights of minor-party candidates, by forcing them to falsely state on the ballot that they have “No Party Preference”. For example, Michael Chamness, who ran for U.S. Congress as a Coffee Party candidate, was forced to lie to voters that he had “No Party Preference”.

Second, Senate Bill 6 disenfranchised all voters who cast write-in votes in the general election. Earlier, Rich Wilson and Julius Galacki cast write-in votes that were not counted.

The Coffee Party was formed in reaction to the Tea Party.

Given the plaintiffs, this may seem like a quirky case, but the issues are quite serious. Montanans considering Scott Reichner’s jungle primary (HB-436) might want to keep an eye on Chamness v. Bowen.