In a published opinion issued today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Hawaii’s practice of holding open primary elections. The Democratic Party of Hawaii had sued the state office of elections in 2013 and sought to limit participation in the Democratic primary election to registered Democrats only.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the Democratic Party did not show that the open primary system burdens its associational rights. The Party offered no evidence that the open primary impacted its candidates or messages. The Ninth Circuit noted that Hawaii’s voters may vote in only one party’s primary election.
The case, Democratic Party of Hawaii v. Nago, was originally filed in the federal district court of Hawaii. In November 2013, Judge J. Michael Seabright ruled in the State’s favor, upholding the open primary. The Democratic Party appealed. The Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in May 2016.
“The open primary is part of Hawaii’s commitment to make voting easier and to include more persons in the democratic process,” said Attorney General Doug Chin. “This ruling keeps Hawaii’s primary elections open to all registered voters, regardless of their formal party affiliation.”
This ruling has no effect on the 2016 primary or general elections. A copy of the court’s opinion is attached.