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The State Supreme Court will collect arguments next week for and against blocking the implementation of the state's top-two primary system in advance of two upcoming elections expected to be conducted under the new election rules, according to a briefing schedule released today.

Critics of the new system filed an appeal last week asking the high court to step in and stop the state from using provisions outlined in Senate Bill 6, the law setting election procedures under the the voter-approved Proposition 14.

The coalition of minor party candidates and activists seeking to block the law has already appealed a superior court judge's ruling rejecting their argument that parts of Senate Bill 6 are unconstitutional. A state appeals court denied a request to fast-track their appeal.

The high court appeal focuses on the rules for identifying party preference under the new system, which pits candidates of all political affiliations against one another in a primary and sends the top two vote-getters to a run-off election. The new rules allow candidates to identify their "party preference" based on their voter registration or note on the ballot that they have not disclosed a party preference.

The appeal argues that it is unconstitutional to force candidates not affiliated with a state-recognized political party to say on the ballot that they have no disclosed party preference. It seeks to give legal standing in the case to Coffee Party member Michael Charmness, a prospective candidate for the vacant Senate District 28 seat, and independent Carol Winkler, who plans to run for the 17th Senate District seat soon to be vacated by Board of Equalization member-elect George Runner.

"SB 6 will force minor-party candidates -- but not major-party candidates -- to tell voters they have 'No Party Preference.' Simply put, it is unconstitutional to treat a candidate worse just because he or she is not from the 'in crowd,'" Gautam Dutta, attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

Before Proposition 14, election rules allowed candidates to list "independent" as their party affiliation in a special election primary.

The office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen has recommended several "clean-up" amendments to SB 6, including tweaking the language for declaring party preference. As of late last month, they had yet to find a lawmaker interested in carrying the bill.

The Supreme Court today released a briefing schedule for the case. The office of Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Proposition 14 proponents and several local election officials named in the lawsuit have until Dec. 6 to file their opposition briefs. Plaintiffs will then have until Dec. 9 to respond.

The legal documents filed by the plaintiffs in the case are posted here.


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