LOS ANGELES (CN) – A black woman claims in Federal Court that California’s “Top Two” primary law has left her, unconstitutionally, with no Democratic congressional candidate to vote for in November.
Elise Brown claims California’s Proposition 14 – signed into law as the Top Two Primaries Act – has left black constituents in Inyo County’s 8th Congressional District with a “choice” between two conservative candidates who are “openly hostile” to their rights and who secured only 15 percent of the vote each.
African-Americans make up 8 percent of the district, Latinos 35 percent, and Anglos 50 percent, according to Brown’s complaint against Secretary of State Debra Bowen.
Voters approved the Top Two law by referendum in 2010. Advocates claimed that a single primary open to all registered voters would allow people to vote for more moderate candidates. Detractors disagree.
Brown, who is represented by Robert Conaway, of Barstow, claims the law violates the 14th and 15th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act.
The attorney is married to Democratic candidate Jackie Conaway, who came fourth in the 8th Congressional District primary earlier this month.
Robert Conaway told Courthouse News that Top Two was bad public policy in a congressional district that already is “stacked against people aligned with African-American values.”
“This is the first time in 51 years that she would not be able to vote for Democrat in a general election,” Conaway said.
According to the 11-page complaint, the absence of Democratic congressional candidates on the ballot has the effect of “depriving African-American voters of the right to vote” since they are more likely to vote for candidates of that party.
Brown claims that Top Two not only prevents her from supporting a candidate of her choice but also means a Democratic candidate will not be on the general election ballot for the first time in 160 years.
She claims that a ballot with two Republican congressional candidates and no Democrats will confuse voters, and that a bar on write-in ballots effectively deprives African-Americans of the right to vote.
“By the secretary of state upholding a law like the Top Two Primary, which compels the citizens to vote in a top two open primary in a district that has a substantial advantage registration-wise for Republicans as created by the so-called nonpartisan commission, the state is effectively empowering the Republican Party by declaring to plaintiff and all those similarly situated that they no longer have a right to vote for a Democratic candidate of their choice, in effect a state action stripping political choice and further stripping people like plaintiff and those similarly situated from having the back-up valve of being able to run a write-in candidate of their choice,” the complaint states.
Brown says that two conservative candidates, Gregg Imus and state representative Paul Cook prevailed in the primary this month despite garnering only 30.8 percent of the vote between them.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is the incumbent of the 8th Congressional District, but because of redistricting will run in the 12th Congressional District in November.
Brown wants an injunction against Top Two before Bowen certifies the nominations for the November election.