Munro v. Socialist Workers
479 U.S. 189 (1986)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Munro v. Socialist Workers, 479 U.S. 189 (1986)

Munro, Secretary of State of Washington v.

Socialist Workers Party

No. 85-656

Argued October 7, 1986

Decided December 10, 1986

479 U.S. 189

Syllabus

A Washington statute (§ 29.18.110) requires that a minor party candidate for office receive at least 1% of all votes cast for that office in the State's primary election before the candidate's name will be placed on the general election ballot. Appellee Peoples qualified to be placed on the primary election ballot as the nominee of appellee Socialist Workers Party (Party) for United States Senator. At the primary, he received less than 1% of the total votes cast for the office, and, accordingly, his name was not placed on the general election ballot. Peoples, the Party, and appellee registered voters then brought an action in Federal District Court, alleging that § 29.18.110 violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that § 29.18.110, as applied to candidates for statewide offices, was unconstitutional.

Held: Section 29.18.110 is constitutional. Pp. 479 U. S. 193-199.

(a) States have a right to require candidates to make a preliminary showing of substantial support in order to qualify for a place on the ballot. Jenness v. Fortson,403 U. S. 431; American Party of Texas v. White,415 U. S. 767. Pp. 479 U. S. 193-194.

(b) The fact that Washington's political history evidences no voter confusion from ballot overcrowding does not require invalidation of § 29.18.110. A State is not required to prove actual voter confusion, ballot overcrowding, or the presence of frivolous candidates as a predicate to imposing reasonable ballot access restrictions. In any event, the record in this case discloses that enactment of § 29.18.110 was, in fact, linked to the legislature's perception that the general election ballot was becoming cluttered with minor party candidates who did not command significant voter support, and the State was clearly entitled to raise the ante for ballot access, to simplify the general election ballot, and to avoid the possibility of unrestrained factionalism at the general election. Pp. 479 U. S. 194-196.

(c) The burdens imposed on appellees' First Amendment rights by § 29.18.110 are not too severe to be justified by the State's interest in restricting access to the general ballot. Pp. 479 U. S. 196-197.

Page 479 U. S. 190

(d) The differences between requiring primary votes to qualify for a position on the general election ballot and requiring signatures on nominating petitions are not of constitutional dimension. Pp. 479 U. S. 197-198.

(e) There is no merit to appellees' argument that, since voter turnout at primary elections is generally lower than the turnout at general elections, § 29.18.110 has reduced the pool of potential supporters from which appellee Party candidates can secure 1% of the vote. The statute creates no impediment to voting at primary elections, and does no more than require a candidate to show a "significant modicum" of voter support in primary elections. P. 479 U. S. 198.

(f) Section 29.18.110 serves to promote the very First Amendment values that are threatened by overly burdensome ballot access restrictions. Washington's voters are not denied freedom of association because they must channel their expressive activity into a campaign at the primary as opposed to the general election. Pp. 479 U. S. 198-199.

765 F.2d 1417, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 200.

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