A pair of Democrats in Florida have sued to strike 2020 hopeful Bernie Sanders from the state’s primary ballot, arguing the socialist stalwart is not a true member of their party and demanding votes in his favor be nullified.
The two Tallahassee men filed their lawsuit in a Leon County circuit court on Monday, calling for Sanders – who has surged to the head of the Democratic pack in recent weeks – to be disqualified from the Florida primary. As a declared independent, they argue, the Vermont senator would be “interloping improperly” and “unlawfully” in the upcoming vote in March.
“Defendant Sanders is clearly an independent and is clearly not a Democrat, by his own definition,” the complaint says. “His current ‘day job’ is as a United States senator and he has consistently, proudly asserted his service in that role as independent.”
The plaintiffs have the right to cast their March 17 Democratic presidential preference primary votes for those who are really Democrats, not independents, and are entitled to this court’s protection of their right to vote for a Democrat.
While the two plaintiffs – retired social worker George Brown and former letter carrier Frank Bach – acknowledged that it is now too late to have Sanders’ name physically struck from ballots, given that more than 244,000 Florida Democrats have already cast early votes by mail, they urged state officials to set aside any votes in his favor and simply not count them.
The legal challenge appears to have little support among the Florida Democratic Party leadership, however, with the organization’s Executive Director Juan Penalosa dismissing the suit as “ridiculous.”
“The Florida Democratic Party Executive Committee voted unanimously to place Sen. Sanders on the Florida ballot,” he told a Tallahassee newspaper. “Votes cast for the senator are valid and must be counted.”
A similar decision was made ahead of the 2016 primary, in which Sanders was allowed to appear on Democratic ballots in Florida during his first presidential bid, taking a far-off second place to Hillary Clinton.
The lawsuit has caused its share of excited commentary on social media, with people pointing out that Sanders filed the appropriate paperwork to run on a Democratic ticket last March, and that Senate Democrats appear to count Bernie among their own ranks, at least judging by their website.
Along with Sanders, the complaint names the Florida Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee and the state’s chief elections officer, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, as defendants.
The suit comes while centrist elements within the Democratic Party – among them the campaigns and supporters of former VP Joe Biden and billionaire media mogul Mike Bloomberg – step up attacks on Sanders as he pulls ahead in the race, scoring primary wins in New Hampshire and Nevada and taking second place in Iowa by a razor-thin margin. While the legal challenge has little chance of succeeding in the courts, it may furnish the senator’s opponents with ammunition later on Tuesday night, during the party’s 10th presidential debate.