“NOT the ‘Whiteman’s Bitch'” Rejected as Candidate’s Label on a Ballot

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board rejected an independent Wisconsin Assembly candidate’s request to label herself on the ballot as “NOT the ‘whiteman’s bitch'”:

Unlike candidates from the established Democratic and Republican parties, independents are allowed a five-word statement of purpose on the ballot to explain to voters what their candidacy is about. Shane Falk, a staff attorney for the Accountability Board, said that the board had the ability to restrict obscene or derogatory candidate statements from the ballot.

With one member absent, the board voted 3-2 in favor of reversing that ruling and allowing the wording. Under board rules, however, four votes are needed to overturn a staff decision.

As best I can tell, the relevant statute provides simply that, “Along with the names of the independent candidates shall appear the party or principle of the candidates, if any, in 5 words or less, as shown on their nomination papers”; I don’t know what statute or regulation gives the board authority to restrict the contents of those 5 words, and under what standards. I would be inclined to say that a viewpoint-neutral rule prohibiting vulgarities or epithets might well be constitutional, since the ballot is a state-created limited public forum. But I’m not sure exactly what rule is involved; please let me know if you know.

The candidate, Ieshuh Griffin, says this violates her First Amendment rights, and “says she will seek an injunction in federal court.” For a related example, check out the post about the Rent is 2 Damn High party.