Briefline

Federal judge dismisses Republicans’ lawsuit to block unaffiliated voter participation in primaries

By: - April 9, 2022 1:42 pm

Denver resident Sonja Shearron drops off a ballot June 30, 2020, outside the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building in Denver. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

Unaffiliated voters will be able to participate in Colorado’s primaries in June after a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from Republicans seeking to prevent the group from voting.

“If plaintiffs did have standing to bring their claims, they have not demonstrated that their claims warrant the extraordinary relief they seek,” U.S. District Judge John Kane wrote in his opinion issued Friday.

The lawsuit, filed by five Republicans including U.S. Senate candidate state Rep. Ron Hanks and congressional candidate Laurel Imer, sought to overturn Proposition 108. Voters approved that measure in 2016 to allow unaffiliated voters, the largest voting bloc in the state, to participate in party primaries.

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The other plaintiffs were La Plata County Republican Chairman Dave Peters, Adams County Republican Chairwoman JoAnn Windholz and Casper Stockham, the 2020 Republican nominee in the 7th Congressional District. The People for Association Rights and Bi-Partisan Limited Elections, or PARABLE, was also listed as a plaintiff. They were represented by conservative lawyer and talk radio host Randy Corporon and John Eastman, the controversial lawyer who advised former President Donald Trump on how to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

The plaintiffs argued that the measure infringes on their First Amendment freedom of speech and association rights by allowing non-Republicans to interfere with the party candidate selection process. They also claimed that it infringes on the equal protection clause guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

“Like Don Quixote, Plaintiffs are self-appointed heroes, defending the rights of their party by going to battle against the allegedly insurmountable obstacle of a three-fourths majority that compels a form of diluted political speech. They have overstepped their bounds,” Kane wrote. “By selecting its preferred candidate for the general election — the standard bearer — it is the party that is speaking as a single entity and not the cacophonous declarations of each of its registered members, simultaneously expressing their individual preferences.”

Kane asserted that there is no constitutional right to a closed primary election.

“A member of a political party suffers no constitutional injury when denied the preferred method for selecting his party’s nomination of a candidate for office,” he wrote.

“Given the large size of the (Colorado Republican Party), there is no method that would appease each individual member. Even so, individual party members may see their preferred candidate selected through a disfavored nomination selection method, just as they might see their preferred candidate selected in a semi-open primary when that candidate did not receive a plurality of party member votes.”

Kane sided with the state’s attorneys, so the measure will remain intact and unaffiliated voters can vote in a partisan primary on June 28.

As of March, there were 1,071,014 active Democratic voters, 956,734 Republicans and 1,669,365 unaffiliated voters, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.

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