- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

BOSTON (AP) - Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Fisher sued the head of his party Tuesday in an effort to get his name on the September primary ballot.

Fisher’s campaign said the lawsuit was filed in Suffolk Superior Court against MassGOP chairwoman Kirsten Hughes.

Party officials said Fisher, a tea party member, received 14.765 percent of the delegate vote at the March 22 convention, just shy of the 15 percent required to secure a place on the ballot.

Charlie Baker, the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nominee and the current candidate, received 82 percent of the 2,500 delegates, party officials said.

Hughes released a statement Tuesday defending the decision at the convention and saying she looked forward to hearing out Fisher and “to bring the matter to a close.”

“We are certain the outcome will prove that processes were properly followed in accordance with our rules,” Hughes said. “All ballot challenges were thoroughly and properly adjudicated in an open manner during the Convention with Mr. Fisher’s legal counsel present.”

The crux of the dispute between Fisher and his party hinges on whether blank votes should be counted toward the total to determine the percent of support for each candidate.

Hughes said at the convention there were 64 “blank” ballots turned in and that party rules said those should count toward the total number of ballots used for the 15 percent rule.

When asked at the time whether Fisher would be allowed on the ballot, Hughes said, “14.765 is not 15 percent,”

In his lawsuit, Fisher argued that the blank ballots should not be counted toward the 15 percent rule, pointing to an internal party rule. He said if the blank ballots hadn’t been counted, that would have put him just over 15 percent.

Fisher also said that during the official roll call only 10 blank votes were cast. If just those 10 votes were counted in the total, he said he would have received 15.16 percent of the vote.

He argued that another 54 blank votes only surfaced later in the tally room. He said GOP officials have refused his requests to review the ballots or to disclose which districts the additional 54 blank votes came from.

Fisher said those additional blank votes brought him below the 15 percent mark.

Hughes also released an internal memo from the party’s legal counsel stating that “no one has the authority to legitimately reconvene the Convention” or to “modify, revise, or reject the outcome of votes taken at the Convention,” including the State Committee, the Executive Committee, or Hughes.

In a letter to GOP state committee members Hughes also said the party has begun preparations for a legal fund to defend against the lawsuit.

Baker said he respects Fisher’s decision and he’s confident the party will work to ensure the process was fair.

“I know that Mark Fisher and his supporters worked tirelessly, and having myself come up just short in an election, I understand the disappointment and the frustration,” Baker said in a statement.

“Should a primary be determined to be the fair resolution, I will welcome it and work hard to win the nomination,” Baker added.

The GOP is hoping to make inroads in Massachusetts, where the party currently holds no statewide offices, no seats in the state’s congressional delegation and is outnumbered about 5-to-1 in the Legislature.

Baker, a former chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, was the party’s standard-bearer in 2010, losing to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick in the general election. Patrick is not seeking a third term.

Five Democrats and three independent candidates are also seeking the governor’s office.

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