Storer v. Brown
, a case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court
in 1974, upheld as constitutional a California law forbidding ballot access to independent candidates who had been registered with a qualified political party within one year prior to the immediately preceding primary election. The ruling also established a test to gauge the level of burden imposed by signature requirements: if the number of signatures required is divided by the number of eligible signers and the resulting percentage is greater than five percent, the requirement is likely unconstitutional.
The state of California forbade ballot access to independent candidates who were registered with a qualified political party within one year of the immediately preceding primary election. The law also required that independent candidates collect signatures equaling between five and six percent of the entire vote cast at the preceding general election, with all such signatures being collected in a 24-day period from voters who did not vote in the primary. Storer and fellow appellants were disqualified owing to their party affiliations. Other appellants were denied ballot access as independent candidates due to their failure to meet the petition signature requirements. Storer et al challenged the constitutionality of these provisions, arguing that they violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. A United States District Court dismissed the complaints, but this decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Writing the majority opinion in a 6-3 decision, Justice Byron R. White held that the party affiliation requirements were indeed constitutional. He did, however, indicate that "it should be determined whether the available pool of possible signers of the [petitions] is so diminished by the disqualification of those who voted in the primary that the 5% provision, which as applied here, apparently imposes a 325,000 signature requirement, to be satisfied in 24 days, is unduly onerous." Further, White argued that "it would be difficult on the record before this Court to ascertain any rational ground, let alone a compelling interest, for disqualifying nonpartisan primary voters."