The Independent Voter Project (IVP) along with several individual plaintiffs filed an opening brief in support for preliminary injunction on Tuesday, October 8, to block the use of California’s semi-closed presidential primary in the 2020 election.
Plaintiffs argue that California, as a result of its current presidential primary process, engages in voter suppression on a massive scale, “reduc[ing] voter participation further down the ballot.”
The brief is the latest update in IVP’s lawsuit against California Secretary of State Alex Padilla for requiring 5.6 million no party preference voters to associate with a political party as a condition of participating in the presidential primary, despite California’s constitutional requirement of an open presidential primary..
In 2016, California’s confusing “semi-closed” presidential primary rules resulted in widespread voter confusion and suppression. Plaintiffs argue that things will only get worse in 2020 if the Court does not intervene.
The number of “no party preference” voters in California has grown from 4.1 million in 2016 to 5.6 million in 2020. Yet, “[d]efendants [still] openly and admittedly deprive petitioners and millions of similarly situated Californians fundamental rights that are otherwise inalienable to our citizenship,” the brief states.
A misconception that has emerged about IVP’s lawsuit is that plaintiffs are trying to overturn the 2000 Supreme Court decision in California Democratic Party v. Jones, which found that the nonpartisan blanket primary approved by California voters in 1996 (Proposition 198) violated political parties’ right of association and was thus unconstitutional.
Plaintiffs make it clear in the brief, however, that the decision in Jones actually supports their arguments because, now, the State of California forces voters to associate with a political party as a condition of voter participation -- the same right of association that was recognized in Jones.
“Here, [the defendant] is preventing voters opposed to association with a political party from participating in a publicly administered, taxpayer-funded, important stage of the presidential election process,” the plaintiffs write.
“Forcing NPP voters to associate with a political party in order to cast their primary vote for a presidential candidate is no remedy, and instead is a clear violation of their liberty and freedom to not associate.”
Plaintiffs argue that the State of California can protect the rights of political parties AND voters at the same time. For example, IVP offered Secretary of State Alex Padilla and the California Legislature solutions that would allow voters who do not want to associate with a political party an opportunity to cast a ballot for a presidential candidate without forcing the political parties to include the results in their own private nomination process.
“The consequences of [the defendants] inaction have resulted and will continue to result in the suppression of NPP voters’ vote on a massive scale, compromising the integrity of every state and municipal election conducted alongside the presidential primary,” the brief states.
It is worth noting that both major parties make it clear in their rules that the parties ultimately control how delegates are allocated and their presidential nominees are selected.. For instance, the Republican Party has gone so far as to cancel their presidential primary altogether in some states.
Likewise, leadership from the Democratic Party has continually asserted the party's private right to determine their presidential delegates and nominees when they don’t want to honor the results of a state’s primary.
The party, facing a class-action lawsuit from many Bernie Sanders supports after the 2016 primaries, argued before a federal judge that if it wanted to select its nominee in the “smoke-filled backrooms” regardless of the vote -- as the parties used to do -- it had the right to do it.
Given the control the parties have over the presidential process, presidential primaries and caucuses are, in reality, big straw polls. So, the only reason to erect barriers between no party preference voters and their right to participate in the State of California’s presidential primary is to reduce voter turnout among nonpartisan voters.
Secretary Padilla said it himself, “If there’s one thing that every American should agree with, it’s this: Voting is the fundamental right in our democracy, the one that makes all others possible.”
The secretary of state has yet to articulate a state interest in preventing 5.6 million California voters who do not want to associate with a political party from voting in the taxpayer-funded and publicly administered presidential primary election.
Read the full brief below: