Judge Rules Political Parties Can Restrict Who Votes at Their Events

RICHMOND (CN) – A federal judge ruled Friday that the Republican Party of Virginia has a right to bar individuals from voting at its meetings or conventions who have supported nonparty candidates.

As described in a federal complaint filed in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Jay Marts and Dana Newcomb had been loyal members of the GOP, but having grown disenchanted with the direction of the local party, they began to openly support third-party candidates.

This support included not only promoting these candidates at public events, but also publishing op-eds on these third-party candidates online and in print newspapers.

The Republican Party of Virginia has a rule that denies individuals the right to participate in the organization’s functions for four years after they’ve voted or advocated for someone outside the party.

Marts and Newcomb said their local party affiliate chose to ignore the state party rule and allow them to vote at its 2016 meetings. That is, until another member complained to the state party about this, and succeeded in having the votes of the pair and six others voided.

They were also barred at least two other times from voting at GOP meetings and state conventions during the 2016 election cycle, the complaint says.

Marts and Newcomb argued the party’s restrictions violated their First amendment free speech rights, particularly when it came to their right to vote and peacefully assemble.

Among other things, they said, this prohibition prevented them from voting on delegates who would represent their election district at the Republican National Convention.

In dismissing the complaint on Friday, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Dillon said state parties have the right to choose who can vote in their meetings.

“The Supreme Court and the Fourth Circuit both recognize political parties’ right to associate and importantly, their right to limit that association,” Dillon wrote in the 13-page opinion.

“In Virginia, a party is free to select from various methods of nomination in which it can exclude voters who do not share its views — including a closed primary conducted and funded by the party,” Dillon said.

Marts and Newcomb tried to use two Jim Crow-era court decisions related to the rights of blacks to vote in primary elections, but Judge Dillon noted the rulings in question had either been overturned or written so narrowly as to be incompatible with the president case.

“The facts here do not involve a race-based restriction or limitation,” she wrote. “Plaintiffs have not cited a single case where a party’s disciplinary limitation on participation in its internal elections has been determined to be state action.”

“We are very glad this pettiness is finally behind us,” said Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck, calling the lawsuit “frivolous” and filed by “party outsiders” who sought to violated party rules.

“There was never a doubt that the RPV would ultimately win in this situation,” Whitbeck said.

Charles King, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they were disappointed by the judge’s decision and they would examine their legal options going forward.

“They believe their right to vote was being denied because of Facebook posts and op-eds,” he said. “After the 2017 election, the party should be trying to include people, not thin the heard.”

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