03 Jan 2016
January 3, 2016

GOP Loyalty Oath Myths

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Virginia will hold its Presidential Primary on March 1, 2016 – Republicans have decided to limit their primary to voters who sign a statement saying that they are Republicans. Virginia Democrats will not require any such statement and anyone may vote in the Democratic primary. See my recent post for text of the statement. Sounds simple, but, especially since Donald Trump found out about it, there’s been a lot of misinformation about this issue.

First Myth: Democrats do it too. We don’t. Virginians don’t register by party. Party primaries, by statute, are open to all registered voters, with one exception – the Presidential Primary. Since Va. Code 24.2-545 was adopted in 1999, parties may require voters to sign a statement of affiliation to participate in the state-administered presidential primary. Republicans required a statement in 2000, asked for a statement in 2008 and 2012, but withdrew their requests when outrage ensued, and have required a statement for 2016. Virginia Democrats have never required an oath to participate in their Presidential primary. Ever. Some people might see that as a difference between the parties. Many journalists, however, whether motivated by cynicism, ignorance, laziness, or bias, find refuge in false equivalency. The parties, on this and a number of other issues (including redistricting), are not the same.

It is true that both parties require participants in party-run caucuses to sign a pledge. Such caucuses may be assembled caucuses (or mass meetings, as are held in Iowa for the presidential race) or unassembled caucuses (sometimes called firehouse primaries), where participants can vote and then leave. Requiring a pledge to participate in a typically low turn-out, party- run caucus is different than having a primary limited to party members, rather than an open primary. For example, both parties will use the primary results to allocate national convention delegates – those actual delegates will be chosen at Congressional District and State Conventions whose members are chosen at local caucuses by people willing to sign a pledge. Party activists certainly have a greater interest than the general public in who gets to be a delegate. But any voter can chose his or her favorite candidate in an open primary.

Second Myth: Gov. McAuliffe and the State Board of Elections (SBE) somehow changed the GOP’s oath. This odd allegation was raised in a number of posts at an unofficial Virginia Republican blog.  In fact, the oath is the one the GOP asked the SBE to approve, it was supported by the SBE GOP member, and the Republican Party of Virginia Executive Director agreed with the final decision. I understand that only changes were to change the name of the form from pledge to statement of affiliation (per the statute) and delete the phrase “property of the Republican Party of Virginia” from the bottom of the forms as the forms are state property.

In short, the Republican Party of Virginia should leave Virginia Democrats out of their mess.

A couple of other thoughts:

The Virginia Republican statement also asks for the voter’s email and phone number. The SBE has indicated that it cannot provide this information back to the party. In any case, each party will get a list of the people who have voted in its primary.

My primary concern with the GOP requiring an oath is it will be administered by non-partisan election officials who may have a hard time answering questions like: What does it mean to be a Republican? Does this mean I have to vote for Trump if he is the nominee? Can I vote for Trump if he runs as an independent. There should be a way to allow Democratic primary voters to bypass this nonsense.

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