Michael Chamness Appeals to 9th Circuit; Court asks for Response from State by Noon on April 1

At 4:40 p.m. on March 31, Michael Chamness appealed to the 9th circuit, in his lawsuit to force elections officials to allow him to be listed on the ballot as either “independent” or “My party preference is the Coffee Party.” The 9th circuit quickly asked the Secretary of State’s attorneys to file a response by noon, April 1. The case is Chamness v Bowen. If Chamness gets no relief, his ballot label will be “No party preference”. The U.S. District Court Judge in this case had denied relief to Chamness on March 30.

The election is set for May 17, to fill the vacant U.S. House seat, 36th district, in Los Angeles County. The seat is empty because Congresswoman Jane Harman resigned. The overseas absentee ballots are about to be printed, so this case is moving very fast.


Michael Chamness Appeals to 9th Circuit; Court asks for Response from State by Noon on April 1 — 22 Comments

  1. IF the 9th Circuit gives Mr. C his desired label, then one more chance for SCOTUS to slam the 9th Circuit ??? — used as a punching bag by SCOTUS in recent decades — i.e. due to the State law question involved about the status of political parties in CA.

  2. I guess, if Chamness wins the appeal and is allowed to use “My party preference is the Coffee Party”, the result would be to make the struggle for a party to qualify for the ballot meaningless.

  3. Richard Winger

    What court of the 9th Circuit is this case in? My concern in the California electors will be very confused
    if Mr. Chamness gets his way. The word “Independent” is
    part of name of my party, viz., “American Independent Party of California”. If the court lets Mr. Chamness
    place on the ballot “My Party Preference is the Independent Party”. My problem now is to find an attorney on short notice, that wants to take on this
    case. I believe that CA Election Code sections 18201
    and section 18203 would be part of the reply. I also
    believe Mr. Chamness need to notice the American Independent Party as a necessary party. Judge Otis D.
    Wright II made it very clear when he stated, “While Plaintiff prefers the term “Independent” using this term
    to designate candidates affiliated with “Non-qualified
    Parties” may create confusion with those affiliated with the “American Independent” party one of the six qualified political parties in California.”

    The American Independent Party will protect its name
    and all parts of it.

    Sincerely, Mark Seidenberg, Vice Chairman, American Independent Party

  4. Mark,

    AIP made a very bad choice in choosing s name, if it’s real purpose was clarity.

    Richard statistics over the years have clearly shown that it is AIP that is confusing voters and that the inclusion of “Independent” in it’s name is the only reason it have been able to maintain a higher voter registration level than the other third parties. It’s vote totals are always way out of whack with it’s registration figures, unlike the other parties which usually draw more votes than would be expected by their registration numbers,

    AIP does not own the word “Independent”. There is in fact nothing really independent about it’s political perspective. It represents a specific political agenda that it wants to advance just like the other third parties. I think YOU should seriously consider changing your party’s name if you are really worried about confusion with truly independent voters.


  5. #2 Secretary of State Bowen is not applying the law consistently. If qualified parties were “participating” in the election for voter-nominated offices, then there would still be the distinction in the number of in-lieu-of signatures for smaller qualified parties, candidates would be required to get their qualifying signatures from voters affiliated with the party, independent nominations would require a large number of signatures, only one candidate per party could qualify for the general elections, and there would not be a large amount of text on the ballot explaining that candidates are not endorsed by the political parties.

    Unfortunately, Michael Chamness’s motives are impure. He does not seek to have “My Party Preference is the Coffee Party” on the ballot. He does not seek to have “Independent” next to his name on the ballot.

    He seeks to return a system where he would be banned from appearing on the ballot period because of his recent affiliation switch, and even if he could qualify for the ballot it would require a great deal more signatures. If Chamness were successful in his lawsuit he would be harmed much more than he alleges to be harmed by the Top 2 Open Primary.

    Alternatively, he would seek to prevent any election to fill the vacancy in Congressional District 36. But surely that would cause more harm to the citizens of California than any harm that Chamness alleges.

  6. June

    Why do you think the American Independent Party of California should change it name? It has been the parties
    name since 1967. What would be a better party name? If we
    did change its name to a different name, what is your suggestion for the alternative name?

    The name Independent is part of American Independent Party
    name. By the California Election Code the National Committee
    of the AIP controls the party name and all parts of the party’s name.

    Sincerely, Mark Seidenberg, Vice Chairman, American Independent Party

  7. #3, take a look at the more recent blog post about the Secretary of State of California approving “Americans Elect” and “American Third Position” as political bodies.

  8. Jim Riley

    What is your source that Mr. Chamness motive are impure? I do not agree with you that Prop. 14 or SB 6 was good for the
    California. I would like to return to the law pre-Prop 14.

    However Mr. Chamness wants to use a part of the name of American Independent Party for his own uses, without getting permission from the National Committee of the AIP. That is a violation of the California Election Code.

    Sincerely, Mark Seidenberg, Vice Chairman, American Independent Party

  9. #2 California could provide for a system of recognizing political parties. However such a system could not require the large number of registrants that the current system requires.

    California does have a rational interest that the parties that voters prefer are actual parties. It would want to avoid potential confusion (eg “Peas and Friedom”), and would want to have consistent spelling and translation. It would want to have a minimum number of registrants to ensure some stability, (a few hundred, not 10s of thousands).

    California would want to ensure that the party had a set of bylaws, and that they had had been precleared by the USDOJ under Section 5 of the VRA, that would provide for officers responsible for representing the party officially, responsible financial reporting, and the opportunity for voters registered with the party to participate in the governance of the party.

    Since a relatively small number of registered voters would be needed in order for California to recognize a party (let’s say 300 to be recognized and 100 to maintain it), recognition could be by petition only. 300 or more voters would sign a petition, and it was successful, the registration of the petitioners would be changed. The current system of register, count the registrations, and then qualify could be eliminated.

    Existing registrations for non-recognized parties could be changed to “Undeclared” or “Non-Partisan” (there could be a transitional period to give voters an opportunity to formally organize as a party and be recognized). Instead of “No Party Preference”, candidates who were Undeclared or Non-Partisan, could have the ballot label of “Independent”, “Non-Partisan”, or “Non-Affiliated” to indicate their status.

    There should be no problem with relatively small parties making endorsement on a sample ballot. It is simply a sheet of paper with printing on it.

    California could simply convert existing qualified parties to “presidentially-qualified parties” that would continue to have presidential primaries. Or they could simply produce one ballot for all parties. Each party could choose whether it would permit non-affiliated voters to count for its nomination, and ballots would be pre-marked with the affiliation of the voter.

    The winner of each party’s primary would be certified as qualifying for the general election. If a party wanted to send delegates to some national convention that would be a private matter.

    Any candidate who had been certified as a primary winner; as well as candidates who had 10,000 votes or petition signatures could qualify for the general election ballot. If the 10,000 votes and signatures were from registrants of a single party, then that candidate could have the party name appear on the ballot. If there were multiple candidates for a party, the party could choose which candidate(s) could use the party name on the ballot.

    For example, in 2008, Hillary Clinton would have been certified as the primary winner, and Barack Obama would have received 10,000 votes from Democratic voters. If Clinton did not wish to be be on the general election ballot, she would simply not apply using her certificate. If both she and Obama did apply then the Democratic Party of California could decide which would have “Democratic” next to their name on the ballot. The other would appear on the ballot as “Independent”.

  10. #8 The injunction that Michael Chamness sought was not to have “My Preference is The Coffee Party” or “Independent” on the ballot but rather to have Proposition 14 be declared inoperative.

    This would either mean that California could not hold any elections for Congress, the legislature, or statewide office, period.

    Or if an election were held under the old law, even though there no longer are any provisions in the California Constitution for doing so, Michael Chamness would be barred from appearing on the election ballot, because of his recent party switch, and would have had to get 12-1/2 times as many signatures.

    Remember that Michael Chamness was formely chairman of the Colorado Green Party, a member of the Los Angeles County Green Party Central Committee (re-elected in June 2010). His lawyer, Gautam Dutta, has characterized parties like the Green Party, as being a major party. The currently qualified parties fear Proposition 14 because it provides opportunities for independents and candidates affiliated with small parties to appear on the ballot. The Smartvoter profile for his senate campaign gives a link to his lawyer’s wbesite, rather than a website regarding his candidacy or even that of the Coffee Party.

  11. #10, you are mistaken to say Michael Chamness could not qualify as an independent candidate in the US House election, 36th district, under the old rules. The old California requirement on duration of non-membership in a qualified party is only 3 months, for special elections. Chamness meets that rule.

  12. Richard Winger,

    In your post #7, you asked me to look at the March 1st changes by Secretary of State Debra Bowen as it effects
    political bodies. I am will aware of CA Election Code
    5001. It states in part “a party name designated, which name shall not conflict with that of any existing party or
    political body that has previous filed notice with the Secretary of State…”

    First, one need access to all records on the subject with
    the Secretary of State. I know of no time limit for the
    Secretary of State to act, by saying your name is in conflict. Do you know of a time limit in the code? I would
    think that this is an issue for the Superior Court in Sacramento County. I think Sacretary of State Bowen should
    now direct these issues to the Court. She is running for Congress in the 36th District against Mr. Chamness.

    The Secrtary of State has not been living up to the elections code on past issues. In 2010, when the Convention
    and State Central Committee of the American Independent Party voted to not have anyone on the ballot for the offices on Governor or Lt. Governor as an alternative to denouncing
    Chelene Nightingale and Jim King, Bowen forced the issue
    by placing Nightingale and King on the ball against the views
    of the American Independent Party.

    Sincerely, Mark Seidenberg, Vice Chairman, American Independent Party

  13. #12, the basic problem with your position about similar words on the ballot is that if you are correct, the Secretary of State in 1967 would have told the American Independent Party that its name was not permitted because that name was too similar to “independent candidate”. California has had provision for independent candidates to call themselves “independent” on the ballot from the beginning of government-printed ballots in 1891. But Secretary of State Frank Jordan did not tell the founders of the American Independent Party in 1967, “Sorry, you can’t use that name; it’s too similar to ‘independent candidate’.”

  14. Jim Riley

    I have been working for days to remove from the Ballot the name of Al Salehi in this 36th Congressional District
    race. It worked, Bowen sacked him from the ballot on March 30, 2011. Now
    he will have to run as a write-in. Al Salehi ran in the 2010 primary election for Governor of the State of California against Chelene Nightingale on the American
    Independent Party ticket. With Al Salehi out of the
    race the American Independent Party had no conflict in
    backing Craig Huey of that seat in Congress. The American Independent Party and the Peace & Freedom Party,
    where the only qualified political party in California to
    place indorsements in the Sample Ballot.

    If Mr. Chamness had all that support in the Green Party,
    then why did the Green Party not place and indorsement for him or even its other former party member in the Sample Ballot handbook issued by the Registrar of Voters.

    These are question the electors of the 36thb need to look
    into when they make a choice for Congress.

    Sincerely, Mark Seidenberg, Vice Chairman, American Independent Party

  15. Richard Winger

    Read California Election Code section 5001 again. It does not state anything about “independent candidates”
    it talks about Political Party and Political Bodys that
    want to qualify as a Political Party.

    Next the election laws in California have changed many time since 1891. Just because Secretary of State Brown
    let the National Democratic Party on the ballot does not
    mean that Mr. Chamness of the Coffee Party can take part of name of the American Independent Party for his own uses. This attempt at party hijacking must end.

    Sincerely, Mark Seidenberg, Vice Chairman, American Independent Party

  16. #11 You are correct. While he could not have qualified to appear on the ballot for the special election for Senate District 28, he could appear on the ballot for Congressional District 36 (if he were able to gather 500 signatures). He could not have run as a “Coffee Party” candidate.

    It is interesting that under the old rules, that it would be possible for a candidate elected in a special election, to not be eligible to appear on the general election ballot for re-election (for example if the vacancy in CD 36 had occurred a year later). That may be a case that Gautam Dutta could win.

  17. #14 Why was Al Salehi disqualified?

    I don’t know why the Los Angeles County Green Party made no endorsements. Nor why the Libertarian, Republican, nor Democratic party did not. Maybe those parties are not as organized. Maybe they will make an endorsement for for the special election.

  18. What is the INSANITY level in CA regarding ballot access — i.e. what percentage of ALL Electors-Voters can put a candidate on the ballots for a legislative office ???

    Waiting for the CA Supremes or SCOTUS to END the insanity.

  19. # 3 — 9th Circuit = U.S.A. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit — see the structure of the U.S.A. Courts on a zillion websites.

  20. Mark,

    I am afraid your short term memory is failing you: Al Salehi did not run against Chelene Nightingale in 2010 in the AIP primary for Governor. Your friend, Mr. Robinson, ran against Chelene and got his tail handed to him in the 2010 AIP Gubernatorial primary election. Al Salehi ran in the US Senate race, coming in third to Ed Noonan, who won, and to Don Grundmann who came in second.

    You also say:

    “In 2010, when the Convention and State Central Committee of the American Independent Party voted to not have anyone on the ballot for the offices on Governor or Lt. Governor as an alternative to denouncing
    Chelene Nightingale and Jim King, Bowen forced the issue
    by placing Nightingale and King on the ball against the views of the American Independent Party.”

    This is absolutely hilarious! Neither your “2010 Convention” or “State Central Committee” (attended by some 10-15 people) had any authority under the existing election code to do the kind of thing you are suggesting. To suggest that it did is ludicrous. Further, your “State Convention” was held after the primary election (barely)–an election where the AIP voters nominated Chelene Nightingale by a margin of 60%-40% over your guy. Yet, you still have the chutzpah to claim that your reason for trying to do this was because Nightingale and King (who was unopposed) were “against the views of the American Independent Party.” This is such blatant nonsense that I cannot believe even you wrote such a thing. Do you not have respect for the intelligence of anyone who is reading this blog, Mark?

    I also don’t for a minute believe that anything you did disqualified Mr. Salehi from being a candidate in this special election Congressional race. If he was disqualified, it would have been for some failing or inadequacy with his own qualifications, paperwork, or filing fee. Your status as the apparent “Vice-Chairman for life” of the AIP does not give you the power to go throwing people off the ballot on a whim as you would like to suggest. Do you actually think anyone believes that rubbish?

    All of this leads up to your announcement that you are endorsing a Republican for Congress in this Special Election. What a shock! Since Mr. Huey is a Republican, I am quite certain that you personally felt “no conflict” whatsoever in endorsing him. The REAL American Independent Party never would have done such a thing.

    Finally, I think your state committee should strongly consider changing its name. I think that would be a good idea. A new name would be a breath of fresh air for you and Mr. Robinson. Then you wouldn’t have to make a pretense of fitting in with the historical platform, traditions and all of the people who have worked in the American Independent Party for all these years, with whom you have nothing in common.

    Have you ever simply considered going back to the Republican Party, (which has your real loyalty) where you could keep company your real political friends, Mr. Kreep, Mr. Olson, and Mr. Gichrist, (among others)? I presume they would be happy to have you back. Why bother with the struggle of turning the AIP into another Republican Party when you already have a Republican Party and all your friends are already in it?

    Have a very pleasant Sunday evening.


  21. Is the name calling inside some minor parties in CA setting a new record each year ???

    Who is purer than pure ???

    Meanwhile the Donkey/Elephant party hack gerrymander robots continue to ROT the U.S.A. with deficits and various Ponzi schemes — social IN-security, etc.

  22. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text in your article seem to be running off the screen in Internet explorer. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know. The design and style look great though! Hope you get the problem solved soon. Thanks

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