Legal Principle at Issue
Whether a state may constitutionally prohibit write-in voting.
Affirmed (includes modified). Petitioning party did not receive a favorable disposition.
A Hawaii statute prohibits voters in both primary and general elections from casting write-in votes. Because Hawaii traditionally has been dominated by the Democratic party, voters in many races have a choice only between voting for the Democratic candidate or not voting at all. A voter challenged the write-in ban on the grounds that it deprived him of the opportunity to vote for the candidate of his choice. The federal district court agreed, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit expressly declined to follow a contrary holding by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Dixon v. Maryland State Administrative Bd. of Election Laws, 878 F.2d 776 (4th Cir. 1989).
A court considering a challenge to an election law must balance the magnitude of the injury to the challenger's First Amendment rights against the offered justifications for the law, taking into account the extent to which the justifications make it necessary to burden the challenger's rights. Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983). When the challenger's rights are subjected to severe restrictions, the regulation must be narrowly drawn to advance a compelling state interest. Norman v. Reed, 502 U.S. 279 (1992). When the restrictions are only reasonable and nondiscriminatory, however, the state's important regulatory interests generally are sufficient to justify the restrictions. Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983).
Importance of Case
The Court seemed unwilling to look beyond the words of Hawaii's election laws to determine their effect. Neither the majority nor the dissent accepted the voter's argument that the write-in ban limited his freedom of expression.
The Court concluded that the Hawaii electoral process, which allows candidates three ways to obtain access to the ballot, was sufficiently open so as not to severely restrict a person's right to vote for the candidate of his choice. The Court also found that the offered justifications avoiding unrestrained factionalism at the general election and avoiding the ability of blocs of voters to switch from one party to another in order to manipulate the outcome of the other party's primary election were legitimate and reasonable. The dissent found that Hawaii's election process was not sufficiently open, pointing to the fact that the state had traditionally been dominated by one party.