Political Radar

Open v. Blanket

April 9th, 2014

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.

9 Responses to “Open v. Blanket”

  1. kamaaina808:

    That 'only difference' should be the one to quash this complaint, too.

  2. Johnson:

    It puzzles me that the Democrats' leadership is working so hard to diminish the party, reduce our state's already-abysmal voting turnout, and generally just alienate more people. I guess that makes sense to them - it must, eh? - but it doesn't make any sense to me.

  3. zzzzzz:

    How about just limiting those who can claim to be Democrats to those chosen by the party itself, with the party conducting the entire selection process?

  4. Andy Parx:

    Correct me if I'm wrong (and I don't think I am) but no one (as in state law) is forcing the Democrats or any other party to participate in the state run primary elections. They could easily designate candidates through a "private" process defined in their by-laws and rules and restrict participants to their self-defined "members."

    You want out Tony- then get out. But stop whining at a system you could opt out of.

  5. zzzzzz:

    Andy, you said it better, but that's what I was getting at too.

  6. Sayer:

    This doesn't sit well - everyone knows that the vast majority of political races in Hawaii are decided in the Democratic primary. This would disenfranchise a lot of voters.

  7. Bart Dame:

    Hey Andy, you are wrong. But what the heck, few people bother researching the law before offering their opinion on the closed primary controversy, so you are in good company!

    You might start here:



    §12-1 Application of chapter. All candidates for elective office, except as provided in section 14-21, shall be nominated in accordance with this chapter and not otherwise.

    HRS has very detailed instructions on how the primary is to be carried out and there are no alternative ways-- at least not consistent with law-- for nominating candidates. It is good to see your imagination works so well. Next, you might want to try this new invention, called "Google."

    So maybe Tony has a right to "whine" about the Democratic Party being forced to allow non-members to participate in the nomination of our candidates? I agree with Tony that the California Jones case is very similar, in its basics, to the conditions restricting the constitutional rights of Democrats to pick our own candidates. We will see if the court agrees.

  8. Especially Incognito:

    Cause it can plagiarize by quote makes it right?
    Thinking from the right does not make it right...

    Democrat or Republican: is not about the Party
    but for the people...Seems many want Hawaii
    to be like the mainland...The 49 other states
    don't think Hawaii is the 50th...

  9. Especially Incognito:

    Blanket party must because purgatory is freezing over..
    Climate change..

Leave a Reply

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. Because only subscribers are allowed to comment, we have your personal information and are able to contact you. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email commentfeedback@staradvertiser.com.