Three black pastors filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Courton Wednesday seeking to stop the requirement that people voting in the March 1 GOP primary sign a statement saying they’re Republicans.
Virginia voters do not register by party, and anyone can vote in a primary.
But for the March 1 presidential primary, the Republican Party of Virginia asked for – and the State Board of Elections approved – use of an affiliation statement. Voters in the GOP primary must sign a form that reads: “My signature below indicates that I am a Republican.”
State GOP officials have said they want to keep Democrats out of their primary.
The move is allowed under Virginia law, but registrars say it creates confusion and anger among voters.
The pastors allege that the statement violates the U.S. Constitution and state law “and is especially repugnant when set against Virginia’s sordid history of discrimination.”
Virginia Beach lawyer Chester Smith filed the lawsuit against the three members of the State Board of Elections on behalf of the pastors.
Among the allegations:
The state board did not comply with a legal requirement that rules for a party’s primary be established 90 days before an election, because the board certified the loyalty statement 76 days before the election.
Black voters who must publicly proclaim they’re a Republican could face backlash from their communities.
The statement amounts to an illegal literacy test for voting because those who don’t speak English, including a disproportionate number of Hispanics, won’t understand the form, “leading many to forego voting at all.”
The lawsuit asks a judge to declare the loyalty statement unconstitutional and to stop the State Board of Elections from enforcing it.
The pastors – Stephen Parson, Leon Benjamin and Bruce Waller Sr. – will find allies in the camp of presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose Virginia supporters oppose the loyalty statement and want it scrapped. Parson was among pastors who met with Trump in New York City last year and who have endorsed him, according to a news report from Richmond TV station WTVR.
Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, issued a statement from him Wednesday :
“While my campaign is not involved, I fully support Dr. Steve Parson and his fellow plaintiffs. He is representing millions of disenfranchised people in America who have felt left out of the political process for years, and that has to stop.”
Conservative radio host John Fredericks said his listeners oppose the statement by 20 to 1 and added that he welcomed the lawsuit.
“This pledge subterfuge is a blatant attempt by the RPV to disenfranchise unsuspecting core Trump supporters, many of whom are independents or new to the process and may not be comfortable signing papers stating their party affiliation,” he said. “These are the very voters the Republican Party of Virginia desperately needs to win in the fall.”
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said a pragmatic issue is whether the lawsuit could be decided by March 1, but he thinks a judge could get it done.
David D’Onofrio, a spokesman for the state GOP, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
This story originally appeared on PilotOnline.com