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GOP seeks fast hearing on primary

South Carolina's Republican Party has asked a Greenville federal judge to accelerate a hearing on whether its election primaries should be closed to voters not in the party, citing a period for candidates to file that begins in less than two weeks.

In a motion for an expedited hearing and ruling, the Republican Party said that "it would cause extreme prejudice" if rivals who don't espouse the party platform can exert their influence in the June primaries.

"The number of candidates who file, and the types of candidates, will be affected by the court's decision in this case," Samuel Harms, a former Greenville County party chairman representing both county and state Republicans, wrote in the motion.

Meanwhile, Harms, in a separate motion, opposed arequest by a collection of self-described independent parties who have asked to have their say in the Republicans' lawsuit against the state of South Carolina and its Election Commission.

The disparate group say it wants voting influence in the state's dominant political organization, pointing to worries that a closed primary would create a more-divided electorate in a state "so heavily dominated by one political party."

U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs hasn't set a deadline for a hearing or a ruling on the requests.

In court filings, J.C. Nicholson, a lawyer for Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson, has said laws governing primaries are constitutional and asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit in order to protect the integrity of the voting process, avoid voter confusion and ensure public scrutiny.

The laws requiring open primaries were voted on by the state legislature, Nicholson wrote in a motion this week.

"From a Republican Party policy standpoint, a closed primary or registration by party may be the best choice," Nicholson wrote in the motion opposing the Republican Party's request for summary judgment.

"However, the present constitutionally sound laws, which were enacted by the General Assembly and have been used by both the Republican Party and other political parties, must be defended by the state as valid."

Wilson said he is merely "calling balls and strikes" in the suit as the law requires him to do and he takes the personal position that he can see valid arguments from those who want primaries closed and those who don't.

"We're not getting into the debate over whether [the laws] are wise or unwise, just that they are constitutionally sound," Wilson said.

The June primaries often determine who wins state office in South Carolina, as a Republican who wins the primary often runs unopposed in November or faces a long-shot Democratic or independent candidate.

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