Elections

Federal Judge Dismisses Bernie Supporters’ Suit Over ‘Jungle Primaries’

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters that claimed county officials across California need to clarify presidential primary rules.

“There’s not a single decision in the history of the universe,” substantiating the suit, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Alsup, said in a short hearing Tuesday afternoon, calling plaintiffs’ allegations “hot air.”

The suit was brought by a coalition of Sanders supporters and the American Independent Party, and claimed counties in California need to clarify voter participation rules ahead of next week’s presidential primary.

Statewide primaries in California, so-called “jungle primaries,” allow any registered voter to cast a ballot for any candidate. The two top finishers advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Rules governing presidential primaries in California, however, are slightly different, as they are set by the parties themselves. The California Republican Party allows only registered Republicans to cast votes in the presidential primary (so called “closed primaries”), while the Democratic Party allows both registered Democrats and voters with no party affiliation to vote for presidential candidates. As of April, over four million Californians (almost 24 percent of the population) are registered as “no party preference” in California.

“No party preference” voters who cast ballots by mail and who intend to vote in the Democratic primary, must request a Democratic primary ballot from county officials. Otherwise, the ballot they receive will have a blank space where partisan ballots list presidential candidates.

Supporters of Sanders, who has done well with unaffiliated voters but struggled in closed primaries, brought the suit alleging an equal protection violation, saying county officials had not done enough to inform voters about vote by mail procedures. (RELATED: Sanders Campaign Complains: Democratic Party Is Not ‘Fair’ [VIDEO])

“They’re being treated arbitrarily, and with a much higher degree of confusion,” said plantiff counsel William M. Simpich.

Judge Alsup, a Clinton appointee, disagreed.

“There’s absolutely no showing of any federal violation,” he said.

Alsup also rejected additional motions from the plaintiffs, who requested that volunteers at polling places be required to explain voting procedures to “no party preference” voters in presidential primaries, and that the deadline for new voter registration be extended to the day of the primary.

“The citizens of California are smart enough to know what their rights are,” he said, before wondering why plaintiffs had waited days before the primary to lodge a complaint against long established rules.

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