I am a monkey, and other ballot designations

Happy Chinese New Year. In honor of the recent holiday I looked up my Chinese zodiac sign. I am a monkey. Based on the description, I'll take it. Apparently, I am an erratic genius. I'm not sure how erratic I am, but if the erratic comes with the genius, I'll happily accept both descriptors and call it a day.

So what good is this new label? What if I wanted to run for office? Could I use it in my ballot description? My job would read something like this, "Jessica Levinson, attorney, adjunct law professor, monkey."

Last week a California judge rejected a lawsuit meant to prevent Beth Gaines, candidate for the 4th Assembly District, from designating herself as a "small business woman" for the March 3 special election ballot. (Apparently Gaines has claimed the designation is based on her work for family-run companies, but she has failed to list income from that work on her financial disclosure forms). Immediately I think this doesn't sound promising, if there is a lawsuit concerning the seemingly innocuous designation of "small business woman" what will they say about "monkey?"

But the judge didn't rule on whether Beth Gaines' ballot designation was proper, but instead dismissed the case because her opponent, John Allard, filed it too late.

Based on a quick peruse of the California Elections Code, and regulations promulgated thereunder, it seems to me that what the state is telling candidates is that they cannot mislead the voters. That sounds fair. In fact, as an erratic genius, I can accept that.

However, when I look a bit deeper, things don't look promising. According to the elections code, if I hold an elective office at the time I am on the ballot, I can list that.
I am free to list my profession, vocation, or occupation. I fear "monkey" doesn't qualify under these categories.

Another worry is that one would argue that the designation "monkey" would "mislead the voter" (some people are so literal), or "suggest an evaluation of a candidate [me], such as outstanding, leading, expert, virtuous, or eminent." Well, anyone who has looked up "year of the monkey" knows the latter part is likely true. Who doesn't love the erratic genius?

So the chances of my successfully being able to use the ballot designation "monkey" look rather dim. But there is a larger question here. Should candidates be able to list whatever ballot description they want? Or is the state's interest in getting the voters accurate information based on certain categories sufficient to warrant restriction? Because many may know little else about a candidate than what they read on a ballot or sample ballot there is certainly an argument that the state needs to watch what candidates can say.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday at noon. She is the Director of Political Reform at the Center for Governmental studies and an Adjunct Professor at Loyola Law School.

The photo on this post is by Flickr user Masashi Mochida. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

Jessica Levinson is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. She focuses on the intersection of law and government.
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Great post, Jessica! So I'm curious what this means for frontrunner Mitch Englander in L.A. City Council District 12 who put down his volunteer policeman job as his primary position before Council Field Deputy? Thanks!

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Zach, great question. Thank you. In answer to your question, it probably doesn't mean much for Englander. Under the California Elections Code the definition of "principal" is pretty broad. It "means a substantial involvement of time and effort such that the activity is one of the primary, main or leading professional, vocational or occupational endeavors of the candidate." The "one of" language is probably key.