- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Supporters of presidential candidate Donald Trump are suing Virginia election officials over a state GOP requirement that 2016 primary voters sign a statement affirming they are Republicans.

In a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday, three black pastors said such a “loyalty oath” would violate their civil rights and “imposes the burden of fear and backlash” in minority voters.

“Given Virginia’s history of racially polarized voting, black voters who must publicly proclaim they are Republican could face backlash from their communities,” said the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Richmond-area pastors Stephen A. Parson, Leon Benjamin, and Bruce L. Waller Sr.

An attorney for the men did not immediately return requests for comment.

Parson and Benjamin have posted videos online proclaiming their support for Trump. In one video, Parson said he voted for GOP candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

The Virginia State Board of Elections certified Dec. 16 - at the behest of the GOP’s State Central Committee - that voters in the March 1 Republican presidential primary will have to sign a form that says: “My signature below indicates that I am a Republican.”

Virginia holds open primaries, where any eligible voter can participate. State GOP officials have said requiring primary voters to sign a statement affirming they are Republicans is a way to ensure that GOP voters pick the Republican nominee.

“The statement of affiliation is designed to prevent Democrats from voting in our process and to serve as a party building tool for our party,” Republican Party of Virginia executive director John Findlay said in a memo to party insiders last week.

But Trump has been critical of the state GOP’s requirement, saying it would scare off potential new Republican voters. He said in a statement he supports the lawsuit, but his campaign is not involved.

“If they don’t stop excluding people the party is doomed,” Trump said. “The Republican Party in Virginia keeps losing. They really need to be smart and win for a change.”

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