The Jury Talks Back


What happens if the elections office misspells a candidate’s name?

Filed under: California Politics — aphrael @ 6:21 pm

A Peace and Freedom party candidate for Governor is upset – and rightly so – that the state misspelled his name in the printed voter’s guide. It is too late to fix the problem without enormous expense, so the state isn’t going to; the window of opportunity for that has passed.

This brings to mind a more serious question, though: what is the effect if the name is misspelled on the ballot?

Section 13103 of the California Election code requires that the ballot contain “the names of all qualified candidates”, and Section 13104 requires the old name to be used when the candidate changes his name within one year of the election, unless the name change was the result of marriage or a court order.

Section 18401 makes it a misdemeanor to prints or circulates such a ballot a misdemeanor, but this isn’t helpful: the state isn’t going to prosecute all of the poll workers in the district for the ‘crime’ of handing out the ballot which the county elections office told them to hand out, and the punishment for a misdemeanor is hardly going to act as a deterrent to the kind of human error which would cause one to confuse ‘Mohammad’ with ‘Mohammed’.

This evidently hasn’t been an issue; I wasn’t able to find a single reported case in California in which a court ruled on the ballot misspelling of a candidate’s name.

Could a candidate who discovered this misspelling before the election sue, looking for an injunction ordering the ballots to be reprinted?

Could a candidate who discovered the misspelling after the election sue to void the election result (assuming he could demonstrate that voters were actually confused by this?)

Ideally you’d want both of these outcomes, but the Elections Code doesn’t seem to call for them; could a court, using equity power, interpose them anyhow?


  1. I ran for office once as a Libertarian, and among the other candidates was one Kevin Murray (who was ultimately elected). Just happenstance since I filed before he did and there were about 12 people in Murray’s party primary.

    Now, suppose that there had been a typo in either my name or his, and I had won in the confusion…

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 5/15/2010 @ 6:46 pm

  2. Kevin’s case would have been interesting, this one not so much. If anything, the misspelling may actually help the guy, but it’s not as though he ever had a shot at winning, anyway.

    Comment by Xrlq — 5/15/2010 @ 8:23 pm

  3. The practice of so many Middle Eastern & Muslim families of naming their sons some variation of “Muhamad” (just to pick a real esoteric spelling) has its negative consequences. While it is too bad for Mr. Arif in this case, the fact is that it is a risk you run when using an incredibly common name.

    Comment by JVW — 5/16/2010 @ 1:29 pm

  4. We had a candidate in the Ill. 5th Congressional District (Rostenskowski/Flanagan/Blagojevich/Emanuel/Who cares) who legally changed his name to Non-Incumbent. He lost.

    Comment by nk — 5/16/2010 @ 5:15 pm

  5. test comment

    Comment by Patterico — 5/20/2010 @ 7:26 am

  6. I would vote for them – twice.

    Comment by Enoch_Root — 5/20/2010 @ 7:59 am

  7. I should point out also that several unions mistakenly called to offer me their support.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 5/20/2010 @ 6:56 pm

  8. I think we had this happen in Minnesota a while ago; IIRC the names were Anderson and Andersen (both very common Minnesota names.) The details escape both my memory and Google; one was defeated in a primary for a major party and the other was a minor party canddate. There were also problems with the official name of the Republican party then (Independent Republican Party) and the Independent Party.

    Comment by htom — 5/25/2010 @ 11:34 am

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