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What is in a Ballot Designation?

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Photo: Jessica Levinson

California law provides that candidates for political office can list a ballot designation that tells voters something about themselves. Often -- perhaps too often -- that is all, or almost all, voters know about a candidate. The designation is sometimes the first and last impression voters get from candidates.

Ballot designations cannot be false or misleading. While this may sound straightforward, there could be a great deal of gray area here.

Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R) is running for re-election -- she joined the Assembly last year when she won a special election to fill a vacant seat -- and identifies herself as a "small business owner" on the ballot. Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R) has identified himself as a "farmer." These two are not alone. In fact, there are at least 10 legislators who are not listing their current positions on the ballot.

These examples are important not so much for what they say about these particular candidates, but what they indicate about legislators' views of how unpopular state representatives are. We now have sitting legislators figuratively running from their current positions as elected representatives. They must think we really dislike our representatives. In fact, they're right. Public approval ratings linger around historic lows.

Let's take a step back. We now live in a state where winning an election and obtaining a position that allows an individual to represent their fellow citizens are things to hide (or at least not highlight) from the voters.

Shouldn't the opposite be true? Shouldn't a track record as a successful candidate be something to emphasize with the voters? Shouldn't a job description that includes representing and legislating on behalf of members of the public be something to be proud of?

The answer is, of course, that it should be, but it isn't. When we live in a state where lawmakers avoid telling the public that they are in fact lawmakers, it is no surprise that few members of the public rush to the ballot box.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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