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Appeals Court Strikes Down California Election Law

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio / File

File: Voters choose their candidates at the polls during an election in 2014.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio / File

(AP) -- A divided federal appeals court panel has overturned a California election law requiring sponsors of ballot initiatives to identify themselves on the petitions they circulate for signatures.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that compelling disclosure violates the First Amendment right to anonymous speech.

The appeals court cited two U.S. Supreme Court rulings that overturned Colorado's requirement that signature gatherers wear badges and an Ohio law banning anonymous campaign leaflets.

The court said anonymity protects speakers from harassment and focuses voters on the issues rather than personalities.

Judge Susan Graber dissented from the three-judge panel. Graber said requiring identification helps voters make better informed choices as they make split-second decisions on whether to sign a petition asking to qualify a measure for the ballot.