Group Says "Sore Loser" Statute Violates Free Association Rights
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COLUMBIA, SC – In the first case of its kind, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court today challenging the South Carolina election rules that prevent a candidate seeking the nomination of more than one political party from appearing on the general election ballot if that candidate wins one party's nomination but loses another's. South Carolina is one of only four states that permits fusion voting, which allows multiple political parties to nominate the same candidate, but also has a so-called "sore loser" statute disqualifying candidates who have been selected by one party but rejected by another. The ACLU brought this legal challenge on behalf of the state Green Party, a disqualified candidate for the state House of Representatives and a South Carolina voter.
"In the context of fusion voting, the sore loser statute unconstitutionally violates the right of voters and parties to select the candidates of their choosing," said Bryan Sells, Senior Staff Counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The First Amendment provides special protection for the process in which a political party selects a nominee that best represents its ideology and preferences. But South Carolina's election scheme rejects that fundamental protection and makes the outcome of one party's convention dependent on the outcome of every other party's nominating process. The real loser here is the democratic process."
One of the clients in the ACLU's case is Eugene Platt, who was selected as the Green Party candidate for a South Carolina House seat, but later failed to win the endorsement of the Democratic Party. At the urging of the Democratic Party and relying on the sore loser provision, the South Carolina Election Commission decided that Platt was ineligible to appear on the ballot under the Green Party banner.
"Even though we selected Eugene Platt as our party's nominee for the South Carolina House of Representatives, his name will not appear on the ballot," said Gregg Jocoy of the South Carolina Green Party. "The state should not be in the business of telling parties and voters who their candidates should be. The people of this state and this district deserve better."
In its brief, the ACLU charges that South Carolina's election scheme imposes an unjustified burden on the First Amendment's free association rights of Platt and voters who are supporting him as well as the Green Party's right to select its preferred candidate. The ACLU is also seeking an injunction requiring the state to place Platt's name on the ballot for the general election in November.
"For South Carolina voters – no matter what party they belong to – this election system is not acceptable," said Graham Boyd, Interim Executive Director of the ACLU South Carolina Office. "We are confident the court will fix this problem and let the voters of this state choose the candidates that best represent them."
Attorneys on the case are Sells and Laughlin McDonald of the national ACLU Voting Rights Project.
The legal documents in today's case are available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/access/36353res20080807.html
More information on the work of the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights
More information about the ACLU South Carolina Office is available at: www.aclusouthcarolina.org