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Federal judge in Detroit strikes down state primary records law

Associated Press Writer

DETROIT, March 26, 2008 (AP): The prospect of a Democratic do-over primary election remained unsettled Wednesday after a federal judge struck down a Michigan law that allowed only the Republican and Democratic parties access to voter information from the state’s Jan. 15 presidential primary.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds’ order prohibits the Michigan secretary of state from giving the voter lists to the parties.

``We need those lists to prevent people who voted in the Republican primary from voting in the Democratic do-over. Those are DNC rules,'' said Michigan Democratic Party spokeswoman Liz Kerr, referring to the Democratic National Committee. ``This is basically the final straw in preventing us from having a do-over election.''

The judge said in her order that she was making no ruling regarding the validity of the primary, which was set up separately but tied to the law giving the lists to the major parties.

But a lawyer for presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said he thinks the ruling invalidates the results of the Jan. 15 election.

``It looks at first blush to us that it has the effect of voiding that election entirely,'' said Mike Hodge, who represents the Clinton campaign in Michigan. ``It does look like it will require some kind of party vote.''

Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer disagreed.

``In all due respect to my good friend Mike Hodge, this decision is not retroactive, it's prospective, and doesn't invalidate an election held several months ago,'' Brewer said.

Bill Burton, a spokesman for candidate Barack Obama, said the campaign agreed with Brewer.

The Clinton campaign on Wednesday issued a press release urging Obama ``to join our call for a party-run primary and demonstrate his commitment to counting Michigan's votes.''

It was the first time Clinton has suggested she would support a party-run primary. A week ago, the New York senator visited Detroit and called for a state-run primary paid for by private Democratic donors.

Michigan lawmakers refused to take up legislation setting a June 3 election, in part because many Obama supporters said the idea was rife with potential problems. It's still possible for the Democratic Party to hold some kind of do-over election, although Brewer said the party would be hard-pressed to come up with the money or the time for a second election.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe didn't comment on Clinton's call for a party-run primary, saying only that ``we think there should be a fair seating of the Michigan delegates.''

“The Clinton campaign has stubbornly said they see no need to negotiate, but we believe that their Washington, my-way-or-the-highway approach is something voters are tired of,'” Plouffe said in a statement.

On Wednesday night, Burton told The Associated Press that Obama's political director Matt Nugen participated in a 20-minute conference call earlier in the evening with Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell and other top Democrats ``to begin discussions of how to fairly seat Michigan's delegates.'' Burton said Brewer, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger and Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick also participated. The Obama campaign has previously suggested splitting the delegates 50-50.

``We want to talk through what the options are,'' Burton said.

The DNC, which stripped Michigan and Florida of their Democratic delegates for breaking party rules by holding primaries before Feb. 5, has indicated it could waive its rules and make a second election possible even without the voter lists.

It has suggested the two states hold new elections that would meet party rules and allow the delegates to be seated at the national convention in Denver. But neither state has been able to find a solution agreeable to both Obama and Clinton.

The lawsuit was filed in January by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Green, Libertarian and Reform parties of Michigan, Detroit weekly newspaper the Metro Times and political consultant David Forsmark.

The judge said in her ruling the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights had been violated.

She agreed with their claim that it would be illegal to allow only Michigan's two major political parties to get information on who voted and whether they took a Republican or Democratic ballot.

``The state is not required to provide the party preference information to any party,'' Edmunds wrote in her 21-page order. ``When it chooses to do so, however, it may not provide the information only to the major political parties.''

Thomas Wieder, an attorney for the ACLU, welcomed the decision.

``This is the relief we asked for,'' he said. ``We did not ask for distribution to our clients. Our view is either everyone gets it or nobody gets it.''

Since the ruling prevents only distribution of voter information to the state Democratic and Republican parties, Wieder said others could file Freedom of Information Act requests to get the information.

But a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who was responsible for giving the lists to the political parties, said anyone wanting the lists would have to get the judge's order lifted.

``Under our reading of the law, the lists do no exist,'' Kelly Chesney said. ``That means ... no parties get the list, and the voters' privacy is maintained.''

Chesney said the state has not yet seen the opinion, so it hasn't decided if it will appeal.

Michigan does not require voters to register by party, so the voter lists would have given the political parties valuable information.

But Michigan Republican Party spokesman Bill Nowling said after the ruling that his party was fine with the outcome.

``From our standpoint, it has never been about who has access to the list, it has been about whether or not Michigan should move its primary up, and we did that,'' he said.

Clinton won the Michigan and Florida primaries. But the Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign in either state, and Obama was not even on Michigan's ballot after removing his name to avoid angering other early voting states.

Associated Press Writer Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing contributed to this report. On the Net: Secretary of State: http://www.michigan.gov/sos
ACLU of Michigan: http://aclumich.org





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