- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 9, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A candidate in Louisiana’s U.S. Senate race sued a Baton Rouge polling firm Tuesday over a May survey that he said was used to keep him out of two candidate forums.

Troy Hebert - a former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner and former state lawmaker - filed his lawsuit in Baton Rouge district court against Southern Media and Opinion Research poll and pollster Bernie Pinsonat.

Hebert said the May poll was “flawed” because it incorrectly identified him as a Republican. He is running without party affiliation. He’s seeking a judgment declaring the poll “null and void” and ordering Pinsonat to conduct a new poll in the 24-candidate race.

“At best, (the polling firm) is incompetent, and at worst they committed fraud by intentionally misleading the respondents. Either way, they should be held accountable,” Hebert said in a statement declaring “the system is definitely rigged against independent candidates.”

Pinsonat acknowledges the poll misidentified Hebert’s party affiliation. But he added: “Putting independent does not correlate to getting better numbers.”

The pollster also said he can’t determine how organizations use data from his polls and he doesn’t encourage groups to use poll results to set criteria for candidate debates.

“We release it. How anyone uses it is none of our business. I don’t have any control over what people do with a survey,” Pinsonat said. “What’s the gripe about me? I didn’t set the criteria.”

Hebert’s lawsuit said he was turned away from a June 29 candidate forum sponsored by the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Louisiana Restaurant Association and a July 28 Senate candidate event held by the Louisiana Municipal Association because he didn’t reach 5 percent in the Southern Media poll.

While he stressed that he had no hand in persuading any organization to use his polling data to determine forum slates, Pinsonat also noted the groups clearly didn’t consider the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

“My poll shouldn’t have kept (Hebert) out if you’re reading the margin of error,” he said.

The Southern Media poll of 500 like voters was conducted in mid-May, showing only four candidates reaching the 5 percent benchmark: Republican Treasurer John Kennedy, Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and Republican U.S. Rep. John Fleming. Hebert registered 2 percent support.

Hebert’s lawsuit says media reports of the poll have “significantly damaged his chances in this race and tells the public that he is not a serious candidate.” Without a restraining order, Hebert’s lawsuit says, the poll could continue to keep him out of candidate debates.

The survey was done before the July candidate registration period. Twenty-four contenders have since signed up for the Nov. 8 election, and debate organizers have been struggling with how to determine who to include in candidate events.

Hebert, who is not a lawyer, said he will represent himself in the case.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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