A slate of Ron Paul backers elected to the Republican National Convention that will be held later this summer in Tampa have sued the national party for the right to vote for their chosen candidate.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in California, the 132 delegates -- representing 18 states and accounting for more than 5 percent of the total number of delegates elected to vote in Tampa -- allege that the RNC violates federal law by requiring them to sign pledges to back a certain candidate. The RNC's "Unit Rule," which restricts delegates' voting options, illegally limits their vote, they say.
An RNC spokesperson called it "a frivolous lawsuit that we're not worried about."
Richard Gilbert, an attorney representing the Paul delegates, said he hopes that a judge will issue court orders protecting delegates from coercion. Gilbert said he had been in touch with Paul's campaign, and that while one official urged him not to file suit, another Paul adviser -- Doug Wead -- told him to "go for it."
The suit names the RNC, Chairman Reince Priebus, 55 state and territorial Republican Parties and their respective chairmen. It also accuses national Republicans of engaging in an orchestrated campaign to deny Paul backers the right to elect delegates.
In a memo to members obtained by The Hotline, RNC General Counsel John Phillippe says that the lawsuit deserves a serious response, although he called it "completely frivolous." Phillippe said that RNC members will hold a conference call in coming days to plan legal strategy.
The suit accuses state party organizations of using security officers to intimidate legitimate delegates, refusing to certify other delegates, and unlawfully taking steps to force delegates to vote for a certain candidate.
"Plaintiffs allege there has been a systematic campaign of election fraud at state conventions including programing a voting machine in Arizona to count Ron Paul votes as Governor [Mitt] Romney votes; ballot stuffing, meaning the same person casting several ballots in several states; altering and falsifying ballot totals for each candidate; the use of violence at several state conventions; altering procedural rules to prevent votes being cast for Ron Paul," one of the charges reads.
Gilbert told The Hotline that he filed suit over "crime and violence taking place at state conventions, where bones were being broken, fingers broken, and voting machines rigged." He compared the Romney campaign to "an organized-crime syndicate, like locusts, committing crimes to influence votes."
The plaintiffs say that because delegates cannot be bound to a specific candidate, Romney has not yet locked up the GOP nomination. By internal RNC counts, Romney has collected well more than the 1,144 delegates he needs to become the party's presumptive nominee.
And while Paul has said he is no longer actively seeking the nomination, his supporters haven't stopped trying to influence the results. Several state party organizations, seeking to blunt the influence of Paul supporters who show up at state conventions where delegates will be elected, have altered rules, canceled meetings, or taken other steps to avoid being taken over by pro-Paul forces. Paul backers have successfully taken over party organizations in states such as Iowa, Alaska, Maine, and Nevada.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California's Southern District -- which sits in the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse in Santa Ana.