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Laguna man running for U.S. Senate has a ballot argument with the state

Laguna Beach resident Paul Merritt, who is running for U.S. Senate, filed a complaint in federal court asking a judge to require the Secretary of State's office to list him as an independent.
(Handout / Coastline Pilot)

A Laguna Beach resident running for U.S. Senate wants voters to know that he is an independent and claims the California Secretary of State’s office deprived him of that opportunity.

Paul Merritt, who ran for the Laguna Beach City Council two years ago, recently filed a petition in U.S. federal court in Santa Ana asking a judge to require Secretary of State Alex Padilla to designate Merritt as an independent on ballots for California’s June 7 primary.

Merritt is one of 34 candidates vying to fill the seat currently held by Sen. Barbara Boxer. She and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have long served as California’s representatives in the U.S. Congress.

Merritt, 65, objects to the “no party preference” label attached to his name on the state’s certified list of candidates, made public on April 1. Other candidates also have the “no party preference” label.

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Merritt said in an email that Padilla’s office registered and certified him as an independent candidate, but “without notice or hearing” and “against my written objection” removed the word from the ballot.

“I learned the that [the Secretary of State] also went into my personal statement to the voters and rewrote my approved statement ... striking the words I wrote ... ‘registered independent voter.’”

As of Thursday morning, Padilla’s office had not returned calls seeking comment.

“No politician in their right mind would put ‘no’ next to their name,” said Merritt, a self-employed trust administrator focused on real estate and stocks, said in a follow-up interview. “I find it offensive. No party preference signals, ‘Gee, this guy is wishy-washy, this guy can’t pick a party.’

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“‘It’s not that we didn’t pick a party. We don’t want to be a part of any party.”

Merritt said he called the Orange County Registrar of Voters in late March asking if there had been any objections to his personal statement. He said he was told there were none but discovered the alleged omission after reading a copy of the state voter guide.

The top two candidates in California’s primary, regardless of their party affiliation, advance to the general election under the state’s voter-approved election system.

The field includes state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Santa Ana), both Democrats, and Republicans Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Beccaro, two former state GOP chairmen.

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Merritt, an advocate of border security and environmental protection, is hoping to make inroads in a state with strong democratic strongholds.

Counties begin mailing vote-by-mail ballots on May 9, according to the Secretary of State’s website.


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