Blog of Rights

Limiting Voters' Choices in South Carolina

By Sam Ritchie, ACLU at 3:26pm

Imagine that you're looking for someone to hire at the company where you work. You go through resumes, research their references, and have them to the office for interviews. At the end of the process, you are confident that you've identified the perfect candidate: Sally Ann. She has just the right skills and experience, shares your company's priorities and values and would represent your organization perfectly. You offer Sally Ann the job, but are then told you can't hire her, because she was turned down for a job she applied for with one of your competitors. Because they decided not to hire her, you can't either.

This is pretty much what's going on in South Carolina with their so-called "sore loser" election law. South Carolina is one of just eight states that still allow fusion voting, a once widespread practice where multiple political parties can nominate the same candidate for the same office. The problem is that South Carolina also has a "sore loser" law, which blocks a candidate from appearing on the ballot if he or she seeks and loses any party's nomination, even if a different party selects that candidate as its nominee.

We're challenging the law on behalf of Eugene Platt, the Green Party's chosen nominee for the state House of Representatives in the November 2008 election. Platt also ran for the Democratic nomination, and when he lost the primary, even though the Green Party had already picked him as their candidate, he was banned from appearing on the ballot.

"South Carolina's election scheme rejects the First Amendment's fundamental protections and makes the outcome of one party's primary dependent on the outcome of every other party's nominating process," said Bryan Sells, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, who argued the case before a federal appeals court this week. "The real losers here are the democratic process and the voters of South Carolina who are being denied greater choices at the ballot box."

Fusion voting has been successfully used by minor parties — notably New York's Working Families Party — to increase their influence and have their voices heard in political landscapes often dominated by the two major parties. But by effectively giving the major parties veto power over minor party candidates who seek a cross-endorsement, South Carolina's "sore loser" statute takes away the potential of fusion to broaden the political perspectives voters are able to choose from. And a narrower field of options means parties, candidates and voters all wind up losing.

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