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ACLU Files Suit To Put Duke’s Name On Presidential Ballot

January 8, 1992

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ The American Civil Liberties Union went to court Tuesday to force Rhode Island’s secretary of state to put former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s name on the Republican presidential primary ballot.

″Access to the ballot is a fundamental right,″ said attorney Michael DiBiase said who filed the suit in federal court. It said the decision to keep Duke’s name off the ballot was based on his political views.

The threat of a similar lawsuit last week prompted Massachusetts Secretary of State Michael J. Connolly to do an about-face and allow Duke’s name on the Bay State primary ballot beside that of President Bush.

At the same time, Rhode Island Secretary of State Kathleen Connell reversed course and granted conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan a place on the ballot after the ACLU threatened to take her to court.

But Connell said she would not place Duke’s name on the ballot for the March 10 primary.

In South Carolina, the state GOP voted to hold a primary instead of selecting delegates at a convention, effectively allowing Duke and Buchanan to campaign openly in the state.

Duke’s Rhode Island supporters immediately launched a drive for the 1,000 signatures needed to force his name onto the ballot by petition. But they said only 650 had been collected by the Tuesday deadline.

Connell refused Duke a ballot spot on the grounds that he was not a national political figure. National political figures are automatically entitled to ballot position in Rhode Island.

Connell acted after consulting with Republican state Chairman Robert Rendine, who had wanted President Bush’s name to appear on the ballot alone.

The ACLU’s suit said Connell’s decision violated state election laws.

″What she is essentially doing is deciding, through the party, that people will not be allowed on the ballot solely because of their ideology, because of their political beliefs,″ said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU chapter here. ″That is unconstitutional and inherently inappropriate.″

The suit called the criteria by which the secretary of state selects nationally recognized candidates unconstitutionally vague and said the 1,000- signature requirement was unreasonably burdensome.

Brown also said Connell’s assessment of Duke as not a national political figure was incorrect. ″Making the argument that Patrick Buchanan is a national candidate and David Duke is not is just a totally arbitrary decision,″ he said.

The ACLU asked the court for a temporary restraining to guarantee Duke a ballot spot, Brown said. He said a decision was expected in several days.

Connell’s spokesman, Tim Duffy, said she would not have a similar change of heart.

″Everything’s still the way it was,″ he said. ″We haven’t seen the lawsuit, so we want to see it before commenting.″

ACLU officials readily acknowledged that they are at odds with Duke on many political issues.

″However you feel about David Duke, and certainly the ACLU has many disagreements with David Duke, that does not mean that one person should be able to keep him off the ballot,″ Brown said.

Besides Massachusetts, Duke will appear on Republican primary ballots in Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, the ACLU said. Georgia’s secretary of state moved to put his name on the ballot there, but state Republican leaders blocked that.

In Connecticut, the ACLU had been prepared to file a lawsuit challenging Secretary of State Pauline R. Kezer’s vow to keep Duke’s name off the ballot. But Duke spokeswoman Laura Otillio said by telephone from New Orleans on Tuesday that he had decided not to run in the Connecticut primary.

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