Ex-GOP lawmaker sues South Carolina Republican Party for canceling 2020 primary

Ex-GOP lawmaker sues South Carolina Republican Party for canceling 2020 primary
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Former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against South Carolina's Republican Party over its decision to cancel the state's GOP presidential primary next year. 

In the suit, Inglis and fellow Republican voter Frank Heindel accused the party of violating its own rules as well as state election law.

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“I’m a life-long Republican, who has served as both an elected member of the House of Representatives as well as a party official,” Inglis said in a statement.  “I’m participating in this lawsuit because the cancelation of the primary by a small handful of party insiders denied me—and every other South Carolina Republican—our voice in defining what the Republican Party is and who it supports. I’m fighting for all of us to get our voices back.”

The plaintiffs, represented by nonpartisan nonprofit United to Protect Democracy, argued that they have been deprived of their ability to vote for a candidate of their choice in the state’s “famous and (particularly influential) ’First in the South’ primary.”

“The State Executive Committee has chosen which candidate to support by fiat, and in doing so, excluded Republican votes from the process entirely — in violation of the law and its own rules,” they argued.

The 26-page lawsuit comes after the state’s executive committee last month voted nearly unanimously to forgo a presidential primary in 2020.

South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick, who is also named in the suit, called the primary “unnecessary.”

"With no legitimate primary challenger and President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' MORE's record of results, the decision was made to save South Carolina taxpayers over $1.2 million and forgo an unnecessary primary," McKissick said in a statement. "President Trump and his administration have delivered for South Carolinians, and we look forward to ensuring that Republican candidates up and down the ballot are elected in 2020."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill WeldWilliam (Bill) WeldTrump's GOP challengers to debate in Nashville Yang 'disappointed' Weather Channel excluded him from climate change special Trump declines to participate in Weather Channel 2020 climate change special MORE, former South Carolina Gov. Mark SanfordMarshall (Mark) Clement SanfordTrump's GOP challengers to debate in Nashville Yang 'disappointed' Weather Channel excluded him from climate change special Trump declines to participate in Weather Channel 2020 climate change special MORE and former Rep. Joe WalshJoe WalshTrump's GOP challengers to debate in Nashville Yang 'disappointed' Weather Channel excluded him from climate change special Trump declines to participate in Weather Channel 2020 climate change special MORE (Ill.) are all challenging Trump for the GOP nomination.

The decision to cancel the South Carolina GOP primary sparked rebuke from Republicans in the state.

"This shady backroom deal where a small group of party insiders makes a big decision that stops thousands of voters from participating in the process appears to violate party rules and is precisely the kind of thing that turns people off to politics," Rob Godfrey, a former state Republican Party communications director and a former top adviser to former South Carolina Gov. Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyWall Street firm predicts stock market would rally if Trump resigned Poll shows Michelle Obama would lead in New Hampshire if she entered 2020 Democratic race Five ways Trump's Syria decision spells trouble MORE, told The Hill.

The rule that governs South Carolina's presidential preference primary allows the state party to cancel the primary only by a vote at the state party convention within two years of the subsequent primary.

The state Republican executive committee has the power to reverse a convention’s decision to cancel the primary if "circumstances surrounding the presidential election shall have substantially changed such that a primary would be deemed advisable.” However, the body does not have power to unilaterally cancel the primary.

The South Carolina GOP leaders canceled the state’s primary in 1984 when former President Reagan sought a second term and again in 2004 to endorse former President George W. Bush for reelection.

United to Protect Democracy, however, noted in a statement that the Republican-led South Carolina legislature voted in 2007 and 2013 to make it harder to cancel elections.

“Analogies to past instances of primary cancellation in 1984 and 2004—when Presidents Reagan and Bush were running—are flawed both because the law was entirely different and because the incumbent presidents faced no opposition in South Carolina,” the group wrote.

In recent weeks, Republican parties in Alaska, Nevada and Kansas similarly voted to cancel their primary contests.