Major parties succeed in blocking primary ballot access for McVay and Wangen.
A Superior Court judge has ruled two Delaware Libertarians cannot participate in the Republican and Democratic primaries in addition to appearing on the ballot under their own party’s banner.
Dover resident William McVay, who is running for the 32nd District state representative seat, and U.S. House candidate Brent Wangen of Millsboro both were denied the ability to appear on the general election ballot as Libertarians as well as on the primary ballots of the major parties.
The candidates asked Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. to overturn the Department of Election’s decision, which was made after the two major parties each wrote letters to the election commissioner opposing the inclusion of McVay and Wangen in their primaries.
Appearing without attorneys, the two men argued that nothing in Delaware law prevents a person from entering a party’s primary, even if the person isn’t registered or otherwise affiliated with that party.
Their case hinged on a 1994 ruling by then-Superior Court Judge Henry duPont Ridgely, who now is a state Supreme Court justice.
In that ruling, Ridgely held that Wilmington Sen. Margaret Rose Henry could run in the Republican primary, though she was registered to vote as a Democrat.
Henry had declared her allegiance to the Republicans in the months before their primary, but was prevented from changing her official party registration during the party-switch black out period that precedes the September primaries.
McVay quoted a portion of the Ridgely decision where the judge made clear that, in his reading of the law, the purpose of a primary election is to allow the eligible voters of a party to decide who will carry their torch in the general election.
“It’s not the role of the state to play favorites and defend the major parties from their own members,” McVay said.
The defense, which included attorneys from both major parties, cited an opinion issued by the Attorney General’s Office later in 1994.
That opinion stated candidates should not be allowed to run in multiple primaries and hinged on pronouns written in the election law, which indicate a candidate may file for election with only one party.
To stay consistent with the Ridgely decision, the attorneys for the major parties said the wording of Delaware’s election law stipulates that when a candidate files for election from a particular party, he or she must declare allegiance to that party, registration status notwithstanding.
Richard A. Forsten, a lawyer for the Republican Party, said the system prevents parties from planting candidates in each other’s primaries in order to foul the process.
“The party system still means something,” he said. “It’s a label; like Coke or Pepsi or Mountain Dew. You know what you’re getting.”
Wangen, who sought a spot on the Republican primary ballot only, said the portion of the law Forsten cited refers to voters and should not be applied to candidates.
“The restrictions on voters, that they can clearly have only one party, does not translate to candidates,” he said.
McVay and Wangen also pointed out that, in recent election cycles, several candidates have appeared on the general election ballot under multiple party designations.
However, the defense noted that, in those cases, the candidates did not seek nominations from other parties and remained loyal to their chosen parties.
In his ruling, Vaughn addressed those circumstances and made clear that party allegiance is more important than registration for a candidate.
Since McVay and Wangen are devout members of the Libertarian party who show no current allegiance or affiliation with the Democratic or Republican parties, they may not seek those parties’ nominations, Vaughn said.
“Under certain circumstances a person may be able eligible to run in a primary other than a party for which they’re registered,” he said. “A person filing in a party’s primary must be ale to state they party is the person’s party.”
Wangen said he has no plans to appeal, but will continue campaigning for Republican and Democratic votes come November.
“At this point, we’ll let the ruling stand and we’ll take it to the people,” he said. “We took a blow for the little guy today.”
McVay said he was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome, but also lacks the resources for an appeal.
“I have been forced to spend $600 of my limited funds in a futile attempt to simply enforce the law as it is written,” he said. “These funds were spent just because the law is so muddled and unclear that it is impossible for a layman to discover the appropriate remedy when his rights are violated without the assistance of a highly trained attorney.”
Email Doug Denison at firstname.lastname@example.org.