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ACLU Asks Court to Void Lincoln School Committee “Preliminary Election”

Posted: September 14, 2004|Category: Rights of Candidates Voting Rights

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The Rhode Island ACLU is asking a R.I. Superior Court judge to enjoin certification of the results of a “preliminary election” being held today to winnow down the list of candidates to appear on the November ballot for non-partisan at-large school committee seats in Lincoln. In a lawsuit filed yesterday on behalf of town residents John Cullen and Edward Slattery, ACLU volunteer attorney Annie Goldberg argues that the Town had no authority to hold such an election, and that all the qualified candidates should be eligible for the November ballot.

In 2002, the Town adopted a charter provision adding two non-partisan at-large seats to the school committee, to be voted on in November. However, in May of this year, the Town Council adopted an ordinance establishing a September primary run-off system if more than four people ran for the new seats. With five qualified candidates running, the Town scheduled a primary election for today, where voters get to vote for two of the five candidates. Only the top four vote-getters, according to the ordinance, will appear on the November ballot. Two different primary ballots were prepared for the election: one labeled “Democrat and non-partisan” and the other “non-partisan.”

The ACLU’s suit argues that the run-off election is not authorized by the Charter and is inconsistent with it; is contrary to state law; and that the “holding of a ‘preliminary’ vote for non-partisan candidates … within a primary election reserved for the Democratic Party, using two different ballots, so confuses the actual choice mandated by the Town Charter as to have the purpose and effect of denying and abridging plaintiffs’ right to vote.”

Plaintiff Cullen, who served as vice-chair of the charter commission that proposed the addition of the at-large seats, noted that the turnout for primary elections is much smaller than the general election, and that since only a Democratic primary was held, unaffiliated and Republican voters would be confused about voting. The Lincoln Town Clerk has been quoted as acknowledging confusion among voters about a non-partisan race in a partisan primary.

The ACLU is asking the court to temporarily halt certification of today’s election results for the seats and to affirm the right of all five candidates for the two at-large positions to appear on the November ballot.

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