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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

To Party Or Not To Party?

[The Clarion-Ledger ran a shorter version of this letter on August 19, 2004; this is in response to "The rise of the unaffiliated," which appeared in the Perspective section on July 4, 2004.]

During Rhodes Cook's recent C-SPAN appearance, an Alabama caller claimed to be a "registered Republican." That's impossible, since Alabama, like Mississippi, is among the 21 states without voter registration by party.

Cook says the supposed movement away from the Democrats and Republicans began in 1987. In 1986, the U. S. Supreme Court gave parties in states with party registration the right to invite independents to vote in their primaries. In states where one or more parties have extended this invitation, the voter has less incentive to register with a party.

Just because a citizen doesn't put a party preference on a voter registration form doesn't mean he lacks one. To paraphrase the Supreme Court, the act of voting in a party primary is an act of affiliation with that party. If someone consistently votes in a particular party's primaries, it's usually safe to assume that he favors that party.

An excellent tool for learning the voters' attitudes is the exit poll, whereby voters in key precincts are interviewed as they leave the polling places. This is especially useful in those 21 states without party registration.

The turnout numbers for the 50 states' party primaries would be much more revealing than the party registration figures.

Several states have unusual setups. A New Hampshire independent may vote in a party primary by changing his registration as late as primary day. On emerging from the voting booth, he may either stay registered with his new party or switch back to independent status.

Utah Republicans allow independents to vote in their primary by changing their registration as late as primary day. Utah Democrats, in contrast, invite all voters (even registered Republicans!) to participate in their primary.

In the states without party registration, each party's members can cross over and vote in another party's primary. If this is ever challenged in the federal courts, it will likely be outlawed.


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