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GOP party leaders still stump for illegal restriction

Louisiana’s Republican Party wisely pulled back on a resolution that reputes to prevent felons from running for office using its label, but pledges made to try again continue to ignore what state and constitutional law have to say on the process.

This past weekend, the party’s State Central Committee rejected bringing to a vote such a measure amid concerns that it did not have the legal authority to do so. Members had fewer than 24 hours to review the proposal that emanated from the Executive Committee made up of party leaders, even as it wisely dropped ambiguous language prone to politicization that also would have prevented “racist” individuals from running as Republicans.

Party leaders maintained that a Louisiana political party did have the legal authority to limit use of its label in this fashion by candidates, alleging that both the state’s chief legal officer, Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, and the state’s chief elections officer, Sec. of State Tom Schedler, both Republicans, concurred. If so, whatever rationale purportedly lies behind this argument seems counter to statute.

R.S. 18:463 clearly states that the “candidate shall list on the notice of candidacy the name of the political party if he is registered as being affiliated with a recognized political party.” As part of this, candidates must attest to as many as seven conditions, one of which being that he meets the qualifications of the office. There used to be an eighth, preventing unpardoned felons within a certain time frame of completing sentence from running, but was struck down after a successful challenge to that constitutional restriction because of drafting errors.

No office listed in the constitution or statute creates as a qualification having a rap sheet without a felony. Thus, a registered Republican who runs for office cannot qualify as anything but a Republican, regardless of any past felonious behavior, so long as he also pays the filing fee permitted to go to the party. Any party rule to the contrary clearly violates state law.

The Constitution and statute do not permit parties to restrict their memberships through the registration process in any way; statute declares necessary information for voter registration including whether the registrant professes party membership and, if so, to what recognized or unrecognized party, without any review process. Parties themselves have no legal basis to prevent someone from registering with their label. Nor can they charge discriminatory filing fees for any reason, which in any event are capped by law.

But the proposal has an even more problematic part, which allows three-quarters of the SCC to disallow any candidate for any reason to run with the label. Some proponents of this point to examples in Alabama where local GOP organizations have blocked people from running in their primaries, but that’s because Alabama has closed primaries and legally permits parties to oversee these in local races. Louisiana’s blanket primary system has no party primaries for anything but presidential electors, much less authorizes parties to run these.

Simply, there’s no way to get around these objections without a change in statute, regardless of what some party leaders assert. Continuing down this path would subject the party to unfavorable publicity and a suit it and the state could not win under current laws. It also runs against a long line of constitutional jurisprudence that gives parties no authority to restrict their memberships or to challenge state administration of elections, with the one exception of the ability to allow registrants without any party affiliation to vote in their primaries regardless of who administers these.

If the state GOP wishes to keep out felons from running with its label, it should stump for restoration of the constitutional restriction that stopped many from running at all. If it wants to have a veto power over who can run with the label, it needs to lobby for substantial change to statute. Any assertion it unilaterally can accomplish these things misleads.

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