As Democrats and Republicans begin the march into their respective primary seasons, numerous sub-plots are developing. However, relative to the rights of voters to simply participate, what’s happening in Virginia — with its potential for utter chaos — is like something right out of Hollywood.
For starters, although Virginia is an open primary state, its Republican Party has decided to require all voters requesting a Republican ballot to sign a document affirming that they are a Republican. Understand that Virginia does not require voters to declare party affiliation when they register to vote, nor is it even an option.
Virginia GOP Executive Director John Findlay maintains that this is being done so that Democrats — and I presume others, including independents — do not have a say in the Republican nomination proceedings.
Well, that argument is all well and good if you’re voting in a CLOSED primary state. However, the point of the open primary is to allow all voters to decide amongst all candidates.
So think about this for a moment. State law allows voters to receive either of the two major parties’ ballots to cast their primary vote—as they wish–for whomever they wish, regardless of party affiliation. Along comes the Republican Party, a private organization with their own rules, in apparent violation of state law.
Or are they?
Katherine Hanley doesn’t seem to think so, and it’s setting off a storm in Fairfax County.
Hanley, secretary of the county’s Electoral Board, is the former chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, a position she held from 1995-2003.
Recently, she appeared before the supervisors requesting they ask the local school board to close all of the county’s 167 schools on primary day, March 1. Her reason, in her own words (referring to the pledge), “If you say, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ I have to say, then ‘you don’t get a ballot.’”
That answer, she fears, will create chaos in the minds of many, particularly amongst Trump supporters.
“That’s what this provision is…That’s about as contentious as anything we could possibly be doing in a polling place on Election Day,” she added.If you say, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ I have to say, then ‘you don’t get a ballot.’Katherine Hanley, secretary of the Fairfax Electoral Board
The Board voted 9-1 to make the request of the school board.
The feeling about Trump is that he has the most to lose if this policy holds up, primarily because he will likely receive significant crossover from Democrats and a substantial amount of votes from independents — not to mention Republicans currently feeling disenfranchised for any number of reasons.
Trump has been quite vocal in his opposition to this policy, calling it a “suicidal mistake,” and lamenting about what he sees as a way to dissuade voters who want to support a Republican candidate but are frustrated with the establishment. Trump also feels that the party is missing a great opportunity for outreach.
However true that may be, from a voter support standpoint, virtually all Republican candidates would be losers as they would all receive crossover and independent votes — though maybe not as many.
But back to Ms. Hanley and her view of things.
There are a number of questions that need to be asked or answers that need to be clarified, not the least of which is, can the Republican Party require this stipulation under state law? According to the election code, one could surmise that incredibly, they may be able to.
In the Code of Virginia, Chapter 972, Article 7, Sub-Section 24.2-545, relative to who may vote in the presidential primary, it states:
“The duly constituted authorities of the state political party shall have the right to determine the method by which the state party will select its delegates to the national convention…If the party has determined that it will hold a presidential primary, each registered voter of the Commonwealth shall be given an opportunity to participate in the presidential primary of the political party…subject to requirements determined by the political party…The requirements may include, but shall not be limited to, the signing of a pledge by the voter of his intention to support the party’s candidate when offering to vote in the primary.”
This section of the state code also says that the state chairman of the political party must notify the State Board of Elections of their intentions at least 90 days before the primary. AND, these intentions must also be certified and approved by the State Board.
So, what happened with all of this?
Well, at the State Board meeting on December 16, 2015, the question of whether or not to grant the Republican Party’s request for the pre-vote pledge was heard. According to the minutes of the meeting (starting at page 11 of the PDF), there were four public speakers — one in favor and three opposed.
Those speaking in opposition were county elections officials while the voice in support was that of Mr. Findlay. The motion to approve the Republican Party’s request was approved unanimously with the only change that it would be a statement of affiliation rather than a pledge.
So what’s up with all of these political people not having any idea what the real deal is? A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Elections, in response to a question from IVN, stated that this is essentially still a fluid issue and he really didn’t have the answer as to whether or not the state could actually prohibit people who refuse to sign the statement from voting.
Governor McAuliffe said he would sign a bill introduced to stop this. Can he do that in time? Does this mean voters are really losing their rights? Has anyone bothered to ask, can voters really be denied the right to vote if they say, I won’t sign? Does anybody even know what question to ask?
Well, one thing is for sure. If you want to vote and they ultimately say you can’t—maybe you just lie!
Photo Source: Daily Press