Bill Fails to Close Virginia's Primary 11-29

Created: 06 February, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
2 min read

A bill designed to close Virginia's primary elections failed Monday. SB821 sponsored by Del. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) was voted down in the Senate with 11 voting in favor and 29 opposed. SB821 would have taken away the right of all voters to participate in Virginia's taxpayer funded primary leaving the Democratic and Republican parties to decide who would be able to participate.

SB821 is the latest in an ongoing series of attempts to close primary elections across the country. Efforts to undermine voters’ access to the primary election are underway in multiple states including:

Hawaii, Montana, California, and Idaho. While the defeat of SB821 dampens the likelihood of Virginia politicians closing the state’s primary this session, another bill, SB 902, remains with the Committee on Privileges and Elections.

Senate Bill 902

SB 902, sponsored by Del. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), would set up the conditions to create closed primaries later. The bill would require voters to declare their affiliation or non affiliation with a political party upon registering to vote. Many independent voting rights advocates question the merits of integrating the public process of registering to vote with the private process of joining a political organization. While some states are moving away from requiring party declarations, Virginia could be headed the opposite direction.

The bill summary from SB902 reads:

The bill (i) requires the state party chairman to notify the State Board by January 31 of each year whether the party will close or open its primaries, (ii) requires that primary candidate petitions be signed and witnessed by voters registered as affiliated with the party conducting the primary, (iii) sets the required number of petition signatures at one percent of the number of voters registered as affiliated with the party in the election district where the primary is being held, and (iv) allows an official political party to retain that status as long as at least 15 percent of the Commonwealth's registered voters are registered as affiliated with that party. The provisions of the bill are applicable to primaries conducted after January 1, 2018.

Update 2/7/2017: Senator Obenshain's bill, SB902, was pulled from committee.

Image:  Rob Crandall / Shutterstock.com

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