1. Florida

Latino group in Hillsborough sues, saying GOP primary schedule hurts Hispanic Republicans

Published Jan. 31, 2012

A Hillsborough County Latino group Monday sued Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, contending that the GOP's primary schedule unconstitutionally dilutes the electoral clout of Hispanic Republican voters.

Moreover, the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa, asks a federal judge to stop the Republican Party from taking away half of Florida's delegates for scheduling Tuesday's presidential preference primary earlier than party rules allow.

A GOP spokesman said the party's legal staff would have to look at the suit before he could comment on it.

The plaintiffs are the nonprofit Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition and Ralph A. Emmanuelli, 67, a Pinellas County Republican and the founder of UNO Federation Community Services, a nonprofit group that works to integrate Hispanic residents into the American mainstream, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint contends that the Republican Party's primary schedule "results in severely limited influence of Hispanic voters in selecting nominees."

"The early states don't represent a proportionate share of the Hispanic voters in this country," said Tampa attorney Michael Steinberg, who filed the suit.

Hispanic voters comprise about 9 percent of eligible voters nationwide, according to the lawsuit, but only 1.7 percent of eligible state voters in Iowa, 1.1 percent in South Carolina and 1.5 percent in New Hampshire. They're about 13.5 percent of registered voters in Nevada, but fewer than one in five are Republicans.

As a result, Hispanic Republicans are "severely underrepresented" in the early-voting states that "exert the most influence on presidential nominations."

The suit also contends that the GOP's penalty of stripping Florida of 50 percent of its delegates at the Republican National Convention likewise has "significant adverse effects" on Hispanic Republican voters.

The suit is being publicized by Victor DiMaio, a Tampa Democratic political consultant. Steinberg is a former chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party. But both said the issue is aimed at trying to protect voters in both parties.

"This is really a non-partisan issue, because both parties have the same rules," DiMaio said. "I'm just as upset at the Democratic Party."

Indeed, in 2009, a federal appeals panel dismissed DiMaio's complaint that the Democratic National Committee had disenfranchised Florida Democratic voters by taking away the state's delegates after it scheduled its primary earlier than party rules allowed.

The party later decided to penalize Florida by restoring their delegates but only giving them half votes. The dispute was later settled and all delegates got full votes at the convention.