“Occupational Hazard: A Critique of California’s Ballot Designation Statute”

Peter Nemerovksi has posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming, Journal of Legislation). Here is the abstract:

In 1931, California amended its Political Code to allow candidates for office to list their occupations on the ballot. This ballot designation statute was originally intended to help voters identify candidates and distinguish between candidates with similar or identical names.

Over time, while the language of the ballot designation statute has remained more or less the same, the statute has evolved into a means by which candidates seek to appeal to voters. Candidates, often aided by political consultants, attempt to devise designations that will evoke positive reactions from voters and that suggest qualifications and experience relevant to the office they are seeking, with little regard to whether the designations accurately describe how they earn their living. Thus, incumbent members of Congress serving in Washington, D.C. run for reelection as farmers; an attorney who occasionally mentors young lawyers runs for office as a teacher; and a court commissioner who lectures part-time at a community college runs as a professor.

This article argues that the ballot designation statute should be repealed. It provides little benefit to voters and is far more likely to confuse or mislead them. It is a recurring nightmare for courts and election officials, who must analyze hundreds of proposed designations every two years and determine whether they comport with the myriad guidelines, regulations, and statutory requirements that govern the designations. The time has come for California to join the forty-nine states that do not, as a matter of course, allow candidates to list occupations on the ballot.

Part I of this article traces the history of the ballot designation statute and shows just how far it has strayed from its original purpose. Part II explains how key terms like “profession,” “vocation,” “occupation,” and “principal” are defined in the governing regulations. Part III summarizes some of the controversies that have arisen over candidates’ chosen designations. Part IV analyzes which occupations are most advantageous electorally. Part V presents a number of arguments for doing away with the ballot designation statute. Finally, Part VI discusses several reform proposals that would improve the statute if it cannot be eliminated altogether.

Share this: