RICHMOND — A federal judge has ruled the State Board of Elections cannot require the Republican Party to hold an open primary in a state Senate race next year.
The decision Friday regarding a possible primary for state Sen. Steve Martin, Chesterfield Republican, could help the party’s efforts to block Democrats from voting in other Republican primaries in Virginia.
The case arose from Mr. Martin’s decision to seek a primary should he face a nomination fight next year. Virginia law gives incumbents the choice of a primary, caucus, canvass or party convention.
U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson denied a motion from Republicans in the 11th Senatorial District to rule immediately on the case but wrote that parties could exclude independent voters and voters affiliated with other parties if they chose to nominate candidates through a process other than a primary.
In 2004, the Republican Party of Virginia amended its bylaws to exclude anyone who had participated in a Democratic primary the preceding five years from voting in its primary. But the party exempts those who pledge in writing to renounce affiliation with another party, to heed the Republican Party’s principles and to support its nominees.
In January 2005, the party notified the state election board that it intended to apply the new rules in a primary in Mr. Martin’s suburban Richmond district next June if he has a Republican challenger.
The board wrote back to the party the next month, citing state laws that make no provision for excluding voters, regardless of party.
State Sen. Kenneth Cuccinelli, Fairfax Republican and an attorney who argued the case for the party in Mr. Martin’s district, said the ruling was mostly a victory, but said he would appeal the decision and predicted the attorney general’s office would do the same.
Deputy Attorney General William C. Mims could not be reached yesterday for comment.
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