Greens, Republican Moderates sue over primary

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Claiming their rights to association were violated, two minor political parties filed suit Thursday seeking a change in Alaska's closed primary election system.

Spokesmen for the Green Party of Alaska and the Republican Moderate Party said state law approved in 2001 and its interpretation by the Division of Elections kept them from appearing on the same ballot.

Court rulings that allow closed primaries, limiting participation to party members or voters not affiliated with a party, do not mean that every party has to use a closed primary system, said Jim Sykes of the Green Party.

''The Supreme Court ruled that parties have the right to determine the selection of their candidates,'' Sykes said. ''The Legislature knowingly ignored that.''

The lawsuit does not affect results of the primary Tuesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 ruled that blanket open primaries are invalid in states where political parties object to their use. The Republican Party in Alaska had objected to open primaries because it allowed voters from other parties to help choose the Republican nominees who would go on to the general election.

The following year, a task force appointed by Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer recommended allowing an open ballot for voters registered as nonpartisan or undeclared. Majority Republicans in the Legislature, however, said such a system would discourage people from joining political parties. They instead approved a state law requiring a more closed system.

''They forced everyone to do it there way,'' said Ray Metcalfe, chairman of the Republican Moderates.

The suit filed in Anchorage Superior Court seeks an order requiring the state to allow the parties to join with each other on a unified ballot along with any other parties willing to participate.

Sykes and Green said the result could be a hybrid two-ballot system used in 2000 in which GOP candidates were on one ballot open only to Republicans and nonpartisans and a second ballot listing all other candidates and was open to anyone.

A spokeswoman for state Democrats said her party mostly likely would embrace that.

''We would be very happy if we could return to an open primary,'' said Tammy Troyer, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.

Democrats will decide within 30 days whether to file their own suit, Troyer said.

She agreed that Republican legislators had no right to force a closed primary on other parties. The premise of the Supreme Court ruling, she said, was that parties themselves should decide how their candidates are picked.

''They did exactly what had been done to them,'' Troyer said.

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