By Derrick DePledge
The Democratic Party of Hawaii argues in a new legal filing that there is no important difference between Hawaii’s open primary and a California blanket primary that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional in 2000.
The party has told the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the open primary -- like a blanket primary -- gives Democrats no alternative for nominating candidates, allows all registered voters to participate regardless of party affiliation, and does not let Democrats learn the identities of the voters who have chosen to select their nominees.
The only difference, according to the party, is that the open primary requires voters to secretly choose candidates from a single political party in all races on the primary ballot, while in a blanket primary, voters can pick candidates from multiple political parties down the ballot.
“It is upon that single slim thread that the whole purported distinction between `blanket’ and open primaries depends,” the party wrote in the legal filing.
The Democratic Party of Hawaii has challenged the state’s open primary as a violation of the First Amendment right to free association. The party wants to restrict primaries to party members and voters who publicly choose to affiliate with the party prior to the elections.
In November, U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright ruled that Democrats failed to prove that the open primary places a "severe burden" on the free association rights of political parties, since some parties might want all voters to be able to participate. The judge also found that the party failed to present evidence that open primaries have invited crossover or independent voters to select candidates that have influenced the party's message.
The party has appealed Seabright’s ruling to the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. Democrats outlined their legal argument in a filing in late March. The state Attorney General’s office, which is representing Scott Nago, the state’s chief election officer, has received an extension until late May to file the state’s argument.
“We are looking for A. -- if possible, a victory -- B. -- if not a victory, then at least clarification of the ground on which the next fight has to take place,” said Tony Gill, an attorney for the Democratic Party of Hawaii.