Statements of support for protest of California Secretary of State’s violation of First Amendment rights and ballot access for third paties

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Presented at a February 28, 2012 press conference in Sacramento to protest Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s rejection of Peace and Freedom Party’s primary candidates: Stephen Durham of the Freedom Socialist Party and Peta Lindsay of the Party for Liberation and Socialism

James Lafferty, Executive Director,
National Lawyers Guild
As a human rights bar association, now celebrating its 75th year of work on behalf of human and civil rights, National Lawyers Guild is appalled by the arbitrary and capricious decision of California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen, denying ballot status to two socialist candidates running for president on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, a party that has for years enjoyed ballot status in California.

Without bothering to answer the candidates’ questions as to why she refuses to place their names on the primary ballot, she instead confines herself to stating what she characterizes, without authority for doing so, are several “generally recognized’ factors that she apparently uses to decide who our candidates for office can or cannot be. She blithely mentions such factors as whether the candidate is “actively running for president,” whether they will be “participating in debates,” and whether they are being “referred to in the news media.” Both of the candidates denied ballot access are, most certainly, “actively running for president.”

But, how is it the fault of socialist candidates if they don’t secure access to the debates sponsored by the capitalist mainstream media? And how is it the fault of the socialist candidates if that same capitalist mainstream media doesn’t bother to mention them in their media releases?

Apparently, Secretary Bowen believes that it is her job, as California’s Secretary of State, to play her partisan part in the undemocratic practice in this country of restricting, for all practical purposes, our choices in presidential elections to the two major capitalist parties’ candidates.


Robert Barnes, founder of Barnes Law based in Malibu,
with a long-established record of major victories
in civil rights and First Amendment cases
Just days ago, in an ugly valentine to participatory democracy, California’s Secretary of State set a terrifying precedent of a single administrator deciding who can and cannot appear on the ballot of a small party for their own primary based on which papers she personally has been bothered perusing, which bookstores she has stumbled into, and which websites she occasions to visit.

Elections provide the loudspeaker for all ideas to be heard; it is none of the Secretary’s business to try to mute that voice. Campaigns for office shape the debate for our future, the ideas we hear about, and the proposals for change.

If the Secretary of State in the past could have decided which candidate they considered a viable candidate, abolitionist parties may have never found their voice, feminist voices never found their platform, civil rights advocates and war opponents never found their audience. Reform in America doesn’t happen without small parties making those changes for us.

This is supposed to be a participatory democracy, not a Secretary of State-run democracy; the right to run the ballot is not the right to dictate speech, choice, and primary candidates of small parties. Just because the Secretary may think the City Lights bookstore is for electricians doesn’t mean her lack of knowledge should preclude participation and choice by those more knowledgeable than her as to matters of their conscience and concern.

If the Secretary of State doesn’t reverse her action, then litigation will be necessary. If this decision is not reversed immediately, I will file suit on behalf of the parties she has tried to silence, and seek immediate injunctive relief in the federal district court. Section 1983 of Title 41 of the United States Code was passed by Congress expressly to prevent this kind of manipulation of the electoral arena and muting of independent voices of our populace. Our democracy, by law, is still a participatory one; it will be unfortunate if the person who runs the ballot will need a federal lawsuit to explain that to her.

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