Published Friday, May 6, 2016 | 7:45 p.m.
Updated Friday, May 6, 2016 | 9:10 p.m.
A group of Bernie Sanders supporters has filed a lawsuit against the Nevada State Democratic Party, alleging that the party violated both its own internal rules and state law by not allowing them to run for party office.
The plaintiffs, who missed the deadline to file for party election, allege the party kept the deadline secret in violation of the party’s delegate selection plan, which calls for full notice of deadlines and application procedures for party office. The party will elect its executive board, central committee, and representatives for national committeewoman and national committeeman at its state convention on May 14.
The eight plaintiffs applied for election to the state party’s executive board and had their applications denied by party chair Roberta Lange and its executive director Zach Zaragoza — who are also named as defendants in the lawsuit — after the applicants missed the April 25 filing deadline, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit states that the plaintiffs were under the impression that the filing deadline was April 29 after reading a document titled “Final Election Rules.”
The plaintiffs allege that the party, Lange, and Zaragoza kept the April 25 deadline secret and that such an action not only violates the party’s internal rules but also Nevada election law. The lawsuit asks that the court allow any applicants who filed by April 29 to run for party office, as well as for attorney fees and damages.
The state party, however, says that the deadline was posted on its website starting on April 17 and was shared via email to delegates and alternates to the state convention the following day.
The party says that the confusion over the deadlines only arose after a Sanders supporter on the party's executive board shared a draft version of the election rules with the April 29 deadline. According to the state party, the deadline was changed to April 25 in the final version of the election rules, which was approved by the executive board to give candidates more time to campaign.
“We’re sort of surprised that it’s come to this,” said Robert Kern, a lawyer and also one of the plaintiffs. “We’re looking at a situation where the rules of the Nevada Democratic Party embodied in the delegate selection plan require that everybody be given full and fair notice of deadlines and application procedures.”
In an interview, Kern suggested the state party was worried about Sanders supporters taking over the party’s executive board and wanted to exclude them from running, although he added that there was “no proof of any ill intentions.”
The state Democratic Party said in a statement that the lawsuit was filed by “disgruntled activists who have chosen disruption over unity, and who confused and misinformed their own supporters” about the deadline.
“It is an unnecessary distraction from our shared goals as Democrats, as well as a disservice to Sanders' campaign, which has energized young voters and focused on the issues,” the party said in a statement.
Supporters of both Sanders and Hillary Clinton have applied to run for the party’s executive board, the party added.
The lawsuit also asks the court to clarify whether members of the party’s central committee can hold their positions for life or if they must be re-elected every two years. State law specifies that members of parties’ central committees be elected to two-year terms, but the state Democratic Party’s convention rules give committee members the opportunity to serve another term without facing an election.
Five of the plaintiffs want to run for central committee, and two of the plaintiffs are current central committee members, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit will not impact how many delegates Sanders and Clinton receive at the state convention next weekend. But Kern said that resolving the issue is important in ensuring that progressive voters attracted to the party by Sanders continue to participate in party politics.
“I think the ultimate thing is that regardless of if you like Hillary or you like Bernie or want to be progressive or centrist, this type of action is something that will kill the future of the party,” Kern said. “We have a vast number of young people who are excited about the process right now and are coming into the party.”