The 4th Circuit upholds a Virginia statute that says only candidates for federal, statewide and General Assembly elections may be identified on the ballot by the name of the political party that nominated them or as “Independent”; the burden on associational rights imposed by Virginia’s regulation of the use of party identifiers on official ballots is at most minimal and is amply justified by Virginia’s important interests in minimizing partisanship at the local government level, promoting impartial governance and maximizing the number of citizens eligible to hold local office.
Plaintiffs are candidates for election to the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors who challenge the constitutionality of a portion of Va. Code § 24.-613(B). In addition to upholding the challenged provision under the First Amendment , we also conclude that Code § 24.2-613(B)’s different treatment of local candidates and federal, statewide and General Assembly candidates with respect to party identifiers on the ballot does not violate the Equal Protection Clause because such treatment is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests.
A local candidate, such as a candidate for county sheriff, is hardly affected by the fact that a U.S. Senate candidate has a party identifier. The candidate for county sheriff is treated like every other candidate for that office, none of whom can have a party identifier under § 24.2-613(B). In that manner, the restriction on party identifiers does not burden the associational rights of any local candidate. While party identifiers do not appear on the official ballot for Virginia’s local candidates, the candidates still have every other avenue by which to inform voters of this information.
We agree that Virginia’s interests in minimizing divisive partisanship in local government and in enhancing, to at least some degree, the public’s confidence that the successful candidates will serve the local community as a whole are legitimate and support the form of its regulation in § 24.2-613(B).
Marcellus v. Va. State Board of Elections (Niemeyer) No. 16-1331, Feb. 21, 2017; USDC at Richmond, Va. (Lauck) Patrick M. McSweeney for appellants; Joshua D. Heslinga, Va. AG Office, for appellees. VLW 017-2-043, 20 pp.