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Suppose (the citizens of) a state were tired of government shutdowns and they or their legislature passed a law prohibiting members of Congress and Presidents involved in a governmental shutdown from being elected again. Obviously, a Democrat might ignore such a law if it were passed in Wyoming and an especially popular president might look at the electoral math and run anyway. I'm aware that many states attempted to pass laws regarding birth certificates after Obama won in 2008. It doesn't look like these measures got far.

  • Could a State deny a candidate a spot on the ballot?
  • Could a State deny its electors to such a presidential candidate even if they won a write-in campaign?

Obviously, a well-funded candidate would challenge these measures in court - the question is: who would win?

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    The US presidency is a federal office governed by the US Constitution + federal law. Individual States do not have jurisdiction over the federal election process, any attempt to do that would be performative at best and redundant at worst. Sep 9 at 5:25
  • @QuantumWalnut Yet they can prevent them from being on the ballot if they don't meet all the requirements.
    – Joe W
    Sep 9 at 12:45

2 Answers 2

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If a US State passed a law regarding the eligibility of Presidents, could it be enforced?

"Suppose (the citizens of) a state were tired of government shutdowns and they or their legislature passed a law prohibiting members of Congress and Presidents involved in a governmental shutdown from being elected again." . . .

Could a State deny a candidate a spot on the ballot [for this reason]?

No.

Could a State deny its electors to such a presidential candidate even if they won a write-in campaign?

No.

The leading case on point is U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779 (1995), which holds that qualifications to running as a candidate for federal office not found in the U.S. Constitution may not be imposed by state law. This expanded upon a 1969 holding of the U.S. Supreme Court which it noted in the beginning of its ruling:

Today's cases present a challenge to an amendment to the Arkansas State Constitution that prohibits the name of an otherwise eligible candidate for Congress from appearing on the general election ballot if that candidate has already served three terms in the House of Representatives or two terms in the Senate. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the amendment violates the Federal Constitution. We agree with that holding. Such a state imposed restriction is contrary to the "fundamental principle of our representative democracy," embodied in the Constitution, that "the people should choose whom they please to govern them." Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 547 (1969) (internal quotation marks omitted). Allowing individual States to adopt their own qualifications for congressional service would be inconsistent with the Framers' vision of a uniform National Legislature representing the people of the United States. If the qualifications set forth in the text of the Constitution are to be changed, that text must be amended. . . .

As the opinions of the Arkansas Supreme Court suggest, the constitutionality of Amendment 73 depends critically on the resolution of two distinct issues. The first is whether the Constitution forbids States from adding to or altering the qualifications specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The second is, if the Constitution does so forbid, whether the fact that Amendment 73 is formulated as a ballot access restriction rather than as an outright disqualification is of constitutional significance. Our resolution of these issues draws upon our prior resolution of a related but distinct issue: whether Congress has the power to add to or alter the qualifications of its Members.

Twenty six years ago, in Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486 (1969), we reviewed the history and text of the Qualifications Clauses in a case involving an attempted exclusion of a duly elected Member of Congress. The principal issue was whether the power granted to each House in Art. I, §5, to judge the "Qualifications of its own Members" includes the power to impose qualifications other than those set forth in the text of the Constitution. In an opinion by Chief Justice Warren for eight Members of the Court, we held that it does not.

The Court went on to hold that:

The provisions at issue in Storer and our other Elections Clause cases were thus constitutional because they regulated election procedures and did not even arguably impose any substantive qualification rendering a class of potential candidates ineligible for ballot position. They served the state interest in protecting the integrity and regularity of the election process, an interest independent of any attempt to evade the constitutional prohibition against the imposition of additional qualifications for service in Congress. And they did not involve measures that exclude candidates from the ballot without reference to the candidates' support in the electoral process. Our cases upholding state regulations of election procedures thus provide little support for the contention that a state imposed ballot access restriction is constitutional when it is undertaken for the twin goals of disadvantaging a particular class of candidates and evading the dictates of the Qualifications Clauses.

There is a gray area concerning what constitutes a qualification as opposed to a procedural election administration requirement (which may constitutionally be used to limit ballot access), but the standard described in the question would clearly be treated as a qualification and disallowed as an unconstitutional limitation.

In contrast, states can, for example, impose petition requirements or require payment of filing fees, in order for candidates to secure ballot access, in a way that is unrelated to a qualifications of the candidate not set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

See also Colorado Department of State v. Baca, 591 U.S. ___ (2020) which was consolidated with Chiafalo v. Washington, 591 U.S. ___ (2020), in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that states have the ability to enforce an elector's pledge in presidential elections.

There is no meaningful constitutional difference between this case prohibiting this practice for members of Congress, and a law that would impose similar limitations on electors pledged to particular Presidential candidates on the same basis.

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  • The qualification to run doesn't mean you meet the requirements to get on the ballot and many elections have had candidates on some but not all ballots.
    – Joe W
    Sep 8 at 23:18
  • @JoeW I don't disagree that there can be different procedural requirements to get on the ballot (and specifically say as much), but the question is asking about a qualification to run that has nothing to do with election administration and so it is not permitted and is unconstitutional.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 8 at 23:20
  • And I see the question asking if they can be denied a spot not if they can determine if they are qualified to run or not.
    – Joe W
    Sep 8 at 23:32
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    Given what the Q ask, whether the voting history of someone could be used to deny them eligibility, this is the better answer.
    – Fizz
    Sep 8 at 23:42
  • While "prohibiting members of Congress and Presidents involved in a governmental shutdown from being elected again" implies that "elected" refers to "elected to [the national Congress] or Presidency", it doesn't explicitly state so, and there are states that have imposed term limits on state offices. Sep 9 at 2:46
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Yes, a state can deny a presidential candidate a spot on the ballot if they do not meet the requirements for that state. Some states have almost no requirements and some have to get a bunch of signatures.

https://ballotpedia.org/Ballot_access_for_presidential_candidates

Some examples from that

  • Alabama 350-500 with 500 total or 50 from each congressional district

  • California Democrat 26,500 From each congressional district, 1% of registered party members or 500, whichever is fewer

  • California Republican 47,938 1% of registered party members

  • Michigan Democratic 11,345 0.5% of total votes cast in the state for the party's presidential candidate in the last election

  • Michigan Republican 11,398 0.5% of total votes cast in the state for the party's presidential candidate in the last election

This list does not take third parties into account which can have an even harder time getting on a ballot and it isn't uncommon for them to not be on the ballot in all 50 states.

As for the electors part there is nothing in the constitution that requires them to vote for who the state voted for though more states are making laws that require that.

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    None of those requirements involve substantive positions or qualifications of the candidate. They are different in kind from the rule in the question and would be invalid. Also SCOTUS recently strengthened the ability of states to compel electors to vote as pledged in a Colorado case. Colorado Department of State v. Baca, 591 U.S. ___ (2020) which was consolidated with Chiafalo v. Washington, 591 U.S. ___ (2020) The Court ruled unanimously that states have the ability to enforce an elector's pledge in presidential elections
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 8 at 23:24
  • @ohwilleke The question appears to be about if a candidate can be denied a spot on the ballot not if they can determine if the candidate is qualified or not.
    – Joe W
    Sep 8 at 23:31
  • The question is asked with respect to the situation: "Suppose (the citizens of) a state were tired of government shutdowns and they or their legislature passed a law prohibiting members of Congress and Presidents involved in a governmental shutdown from being elected again." It isn't asking about a general right to exclude candidates from the ballot for any reason.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 8 at 23:40
  • @ohwilleke And I still see it as asking something different and I showed how a candidate can be denied a spot on the ballot.
    – Joe W
    Sep 8 at 23:43

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