The Constitutionality of Candidate Filing Fees

Early in the twentieth century a “progressive impulse” captured the energies of this country’s burgeoning urban middle class. Sickened by the corruption and scandals of the nineteenth century and fearful of the rising influx of European immigration, the so-called Progressives began working for political reform. The emphasis of this reform was primarily structural. Rather than by a remodeling of the citizenry, reform was to be achieved by “a careful and scientific adjustment of the machinery of government for the correction of prevalent evils.” Progressives pushed such reforms as initiative, recall, referendum, and frequent elections in the belief that these measures would provide closer voter supervision of elected officials. In addition, great emphasis was placed on reforming the ballot in order “to concentrate the attention of the electorate on the selection of a much smaller number of officials and so afford to the voters the opportunity of exercising more discrimination in their use of the franchise.” The principal thrust in this area was the “short ballot” movement, which advocated a reduction in the number of elective offices. But the “short ballot” concept, with its underlying premise that reasoned choice was enhanced by reducing the number of choices to be made, also gave rise to restrictions on the number of candidates running for a given office. How better to restrict the number of candidates and to weed out the frivolous than to require the payment of a fee as a condition to appearance on the ballot? Thus was born the candidates’ filing fee.