BOSTON — A Superior Court judge has allowed a lawsuit to go forward against the Massachusetts Republican party that was brought by a candidate for governor who is challenging the results of a state party convention vote that denied him a spot on the September primary ballot.
Judge Douglas Wilkins, in a ruling dated Wednesday, set June 18 for a trial in the case, stating the party faced a “heavy burden” in disproving allegations by candidate Mark Fisher that he qualified for the ballot by receiving more than 15 percent of the vote at the March 22 convention.
GOP officials said Fisher, a tea party member from Shrewsbury, garnered only 14.765 percent of the vote after blank ballots were added to the final tally. Charlie Baker, the 2010 Republican nominee for governor, was the party’s endorsed candidate with about 82 percent of the vote.
In his lawsuit, Fisher claims the party violated its own rules by including blank ballots in the tally and that it added 54 additional blanks to the total after the roll call on the convention floor.
Wilkins, in a written decision, cited what he called an “unambiguous” party rule that allows candidates who received at least 15 percent of the convention vote to run in the primary. The judge noted that while that rule does not say whether or not blank ballots should be counted, another party rule states that parliamentary disputes should be settled through “Robert’s Rules of Order,” which in turn says blank votes are considered abstentions and should not be counted toward the final tally.
Wilkins said while the claims made by Fisher in the lawsuit were as yet unproven, the court had seen no precedent for allowing a political party authority to deny a candidate ballot access “by arbitrarily changing their interpretation of the rules.”
The state GOP, in moving to dismiss the lawsuit, said Fisher’s complaint was an internal party squabble and should be settled within the party, and that it had a constitutional right to establish its own convention rules.
Wilkins did dismiss two claims in Fisher’s suit, one claiming negligence and the other a violation of his civil rights.
The June 18 trial will determine if Fisher deserves a spot on the primary ballot, the judge wrote, and that depending on the outcome a second trial could be held to assess damages.
Baker has previously said he respected Fisher’s decision to challenge the vote and that if the challenge resulted in a primary contest, he’d welcome it.