Update, 1/14/16: The Washington Post reported Thursday that a federal judge ruled against the three plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the GOP loyalty pledge, ruling that the plaintiffs did not provide sufficient enough evidence that voters would suffer “irreparable harm” by taking the pledge.
The Hill reported Wednesday that a Virginia school district is now considering closing its schools on March 1 for the state’s primary elections. The reason? County officials are concerned that some voters will become unruly because of a new party requirement that voters must affirm they are a Republican before casting a ballot.
Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Katherine Hanley confirmed the concerns of many that if GOP primary voters refuse to sign the pledge saying they are a Republican, they could be turned away and not allowed to vote.
“If you say: ‘I don’t want to do it,’ I have to say: ‘You don’t get a ballot,’” she told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. The remarks were made shortly before the board voted 9-1 to ask school officials to cancel classes on that Tuesday.
Donald Trump has fervently opposed the loyalty pledge, calling it a “suicidal mistake.” Three African-American pastors who support Trump have filed a lawsuit against Virginia and the Virginia GOP, claiming that the pledge will discourage low-income and minority voters from participating in the process. The plaintiffs argue that the loyalty pledge violates the Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Hill reports:
“That’s what this provision is,” said Hanley, a Democrat who formerly chaired the Board of Supervisors from 1995 to 2003 and served in the cabinet of former Gov. Tim Kaine (D). “That’s about as contentious as anything we can possibly be doing in a polling place on Election Day.”
Republican leaders in the state say the pledge will help to keep Democrats from voting in the party’s primary, throwing off the will of the party. But Trump has argued it will only dissuade voters who want to support a Republican candidate but are frustrated with the establishment.
Virginia is an open primary state, meaning voters can choose whatever party ballot they want on election day. Voters do not declare a party affiliation when they register to vote and when they show up at the polls on primary day they pick a party ballot and select from the candidates of that party. Once they select a party ballot, they cannot vote in another party’s primary or for another party’s candidates.
The remaining questions on this issue surround the legality of the loyalty pledge itself. When state law allows voters to freely choose a primary ballot, can poll workers or election officials legally turn voters away if they refuse to sign the pledge? Can such a pledge, which explicitly serves the interest of a private organization, be enforced by the state to the point that voters are denied a voice in the first stage of the election process?
One thing seems to be clear, though, and that is an official with the Fairfax County Electoral Board believes that the party’s pledge requirement is so contentious that 167 schools in Fairfax County should be closed for the entire day, which the Fairfax County Superintendent described as unprecedented in an email to parents and staff.