Court Revives Libertarian Challenge to Election Residency Rules

A constitutional challenge to the residency requirement for gatherers of voter signatures on nomination papers was revived by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday. The appeals court reinstated a challenge by the Libertarian Party in Los Angeles County to California’s residency requirement saying the party does have legal standing to raise the claim. The case was sent back to the district court to review the claim.

To qualify for the California ballot, political candidates must gain a specified number of signatures from registered voters to nominate them. Candidates routinely appoint people, known as circulators, to circulate nomination papers to gather signatures. State election law requires the circulators to be voters in the district in which the candidate is running.

The Libertarian Party, Theodore Brown and Christopher Agrella sued for civil rights violation claiming the residency requirement violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. They asked the court to block its enforcement.

Brown and Agrella are circulators who want to gather signatures in political districts other than their own.

The district court dismissed their complaint on the grounds they lacked standing to sue.

Judge Susan Graber on the 9th Circuit panel disagreed.

She pointed out that Agrella was a candidate for the House of Representatives who circulated petitions on his own behalf in the last election, but was barred from circulating petitions for a state senate candidate that overlaps his district because he does not live in that candidate’s senate district.

In addition, Sec. of Elections Deborah Bowen has issued instructions for candidates warning that the circulator qualification rules will be enforced.

“In light of plaintiffs’ concrete plan and defendant’s specific threat of enforcement, we conclude that plaintiffs have met the constitutional ‘case or controversy’ requirement,” Graber wrote. She was joined by Judges Harry Pregerson and Marsha Berzon. The case goes back to Judge Philip Gutierrez for reconsideration.

Case: Libertarian Party v. Bowen, No. 11-55316



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