Elections

SC GOP leaders ask judge to toss lawsuit over canceled primary. Here’s why

For the first time since being slapped with a lawsuit, South Carolina Republican officials have responded to allegations that the party is breaking the law and its own rules by canceling the state’s GOP presidential primary.

Lawyers for the S.C. GOP filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought on by Republican voters — including former U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis. The party’s attorneys argued the lawsuit isn’t valid because voters don’t “directly choose the party’s candidate” during a primary anyway.

Instead, party lawyers argued, voters just “bind” delegates to a candidate, which they later vote for at the Republican party national convention in 2020. Even without a primary, voters can still “lobby” delegates to vote for their preferred candidate, lawyers added in the motion.

Lawyers also argued that the group filing the case — Inglis, Mount Pleasant businessman Frank Heindel and non-profit United to Protect Democracy — can’t prove they are suffering any consequences that all members of the party aren’t facing.

Calling the fallout from the 43-1 vote by the party’s executive committee to cancel the GOP primary an “intraparty squabble,” lawyers argued that the court should not interfere in the matter. Inglis, Heindel and United to Protect Democracy’s have called for a judge to force the party to hold the contest.

GOP officials — represented by attorneys Robert Tyson Jr., Lisle Traywick, Robert Bolchoz and Karl Bowers Jr. — maintain that there is no law that requires political parties to hold presidential preference primaries.

The motion to dismiss marks the first response to the lawsuit from Republican party officials. In previous stories published in The State, officials have declined to comment on the pending litigation.

The case is scheduled for a hearing before a Columbia judge next Friday. The hearing was scheduled after the group suing the S.C. GOP called for a permanent injunction, which would force the party to hold a primary and to retract any delegate plans it may have submitted to national party officials.

The group — represented by Thorwell Sowell III and Bess DuRant — argued that by canceling the primary, GOP officials “deprived” Republican voters of their ability to vote for their preferred candidate, whether it be President Donald Trump or one of his opponents.

“The fact is that the South Carolina GOP Executive Committee broke its own rules and Republican-written state law to take away the vote from Republicans,” Protect Democracy’s Soren Dayton said in a statement Friday. “... And in exchange for illegally taking away the voice of Republicans, they offer the power to ‘lobby’ their own hand-picked delegates. These are party insiders putting themselves above voters and above the law.”

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Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.
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