RICHMOND, Va. (CN) -Virginia election officials intend to unlawfully force voters to sign a "loyalty oath" before permitting them to cast ballots in the upcoming Republican presidential primary, three black voters claim in court.
In a complaint filed in Richmond Federal Court on Jan. 6, the plaintiffs Stephen Parson, Leon Benjamin and Bruce Waller Sr. say the requirement that they sign a declaration stating, "My signature below indicates I am a Republican," constitutes the latest chapter in what they describe as the commonwealth's sordid history of voter discrimination.
The plaintiffs claim the adverse affects of the requirement will fall particularly hard on low-income black and Latino voters, who will face longer wait times at their polling places cased by confusion surrounding the oath's enforcement.
In the worst cases, they say, voters might be so discouraged by the wait that they just turn around and go home without exercising their right to vote.
"Election volunteers have already warned 'the [oath] will create long lines," the complaint says.
"White wealthy individuals can perhaps afford to wait hours to vote-as some Virginians had to do in the 2012 Presidential election-lower-income individuals working hourly jobs do not have that luxury," the plaintiffs say.
In addition, they claim, only one county in the state Fairfax will offer a Spanish language version of the oath.
They further claim the Republican Party of Virginia plans to data mine the oath forms for statistical information following the primary, the repercussions of which could also further impact black voter turnout.
"If the Republican Party were to release the names of Black voters who had publicly proclaimed that they 'are Republicans,' those individuals could face backlash from their communities," the plaintiffs say.
They also claim the statement also misidentifies the Republican party's role in organizing the open primary scheduled for March 1, which will actually be handled by state election authorities.
Although party chapters may establish the rules when holding their own primaries, Virginia voters are not obligated to register by party and election officials cannot exclude voters based on party affiliation or any other factors, court documents say.
"While the party might be free to close its ranks if it funded and administered its primary, the RPV chose instead to have the state run the election," the plaintiffs say. "The RPV cannot have its cake and eat it too, and the [State Board of Elections] cannot require a loyalty oath."
The plaintiffs claim the oath was created after the state board of elections modified a Statement of Republican Party Affiliation submitted by the RPV last December.
The statement was originally intended to discourage Democrats from voting in the Republican primary -a goal which the state board has no business enforcing, the plaintiffs say.
"The resulting form is more intimidating in its language and also contains errors," the complaint says.
"For example, the new form cites Virginia Code, making it appear like the form is required under penalty of law. It also contains the ominous threat that '[a]ny voter refusing to sign the statement form cannot vote in this Republican Party nominating process.' That statement was not present in the form developed by the RPV," it continues.
All changes to election and voter forms must be submitted no less than 90 days before the primary election, according to court documents. Notwithstanding, election officials approved the oath only 76 days before the scheduled primary, the plaintiffs say.
The plaintiffs are represented by Chester Smith of Virginia Beach, Va.
Representatives of the Virginia State Board of Elections did not immediately responded to an email from Courthouse News seeking comment on the lawsuit.
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