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Victorville Democrat sues over California's 'top two' primary

June 27, 2012 |  9:15 pm

A Victorville Democrat has filed a federal lawsuit (PDF) alleging that California’s new “top-two” primary system is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday by Elise Brown, an African American and Democratic Party leader in San Bernardino County, said the two Republican candidates selected in the primary in her congressional district, which includes the San Bernardino County deserts and Inyo and Mono counties, “present race-hostile policy positions” and do not recognize the “right of women to control their reproductive health decisions.’’

The federal lawsuit alleges that the top-two primary system violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because the only two candidates she can vote for in the November election for the 8th Congressional District are Republicans. The two candidates who emerged from the June 5 primary were Republican Gregg Imus, a Lake Arrowhead home builder and anti-illegal immigration activist, and Republican Assemblyman Paul Cook of Yucca Valley.

The new primary system also violates constitutional rights that protect freedom of association and equal protection, as well as the protections against having a citizen’s voting rights denied on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the lawsuit alleged.

“Democrats have had the right to have a party representative in the general election for Congress since California joined the Union over 160 years ago,’’ the lawsuit stated.

Brown’s attorney in the lawsuit is Robert D. Conaway, the husband of Jackie Conaway -– one of the two Democrats in the race for the 8th Congressional District. Jackie Conaway finished fourth in the field of 13 candidates, which was the largest number of congressional hopefuls in any race in California.

Chad Hanely, the campaign manager for the Imus campaign, said scrapping the state's top-two primary system would benefit Republicans across California, since there are many more contests with two Democrats facing off in the November election.

He also dismissed the lawsuit's allegation of racism, saying that allegation is trotted out all the time because of Imus' association with the Minuteman movement that patrols the Mexican border.

"When people want to go against us, all they want to do is play the race card,'' he said.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to issue a temporary restraining order that prohibits California Secretary of State Debra Bowen from certifying the election, and to restore the traditional primary system that allows the top vote-getter from each party to be on the November ballot.

The secretary of state's spokeswoman, Shannan Velayas, on Wednesday night said she had not seen the lawsuit and was not aware of its allegations.

"The secretary of state's office follows the law until a court orders otherwise,'' she said.

California voters in 2010 approved the new top-two primary system which, in races for the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives and state Legislature, sends the two candidates who collect the most votes to the November election, regardless of party affiliation.

The Cook campaign could not be reached for comment.

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