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Free Citizen

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

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Signing the Pledge in Virginia

Phil Rodokanakis commented on my article on Virginia's politics and election system. The Republicans held a "firehouse primary" to choose their candidate for the upcoming special election for a state Senate seat. Phil is critical of the pledge that the GOP required each voter to sign.

"... [the pledge is] meaningless as it's unenforceable. Furthermore, it alienates voters, even Republicans, because it asks them to pledge support for all Republican nominees."

There will only be one race on the special election ballot, so this must have been the standard form for the pledge. It sounds like the party was requiring voters to promise to vote Republican for all offices in future elections as well.

Yes, it's unenforceable because of the secret ballot.

"The quicker the GOP gives up on this silly notion of having voters sign pledges, the better off the party will be. What VA needs is voter registration by party. Then the majority will register as independents and the parties won't keep on taking the voters for granted."

I know that the Virginia legislature has refused to enact party registration; the GOP probably figures the pledge is the next best thing. Party registration is tough to get through a legislature, as most voters don't want it. Idaho Republicans have filed suit against their state-mandated open primary (Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa), but several bills for party registration have failed in the heavily Republican legislature.

Both Rhode Island and Utah have fairly recently adopted a system that deemed all voters already registered to be independents. The only voters who had to re-register were those who wanted to affiliate with a party (in both states, independents may vote in either party's primary).

Closer to home, North Carolina registers voters by party, and independents have their choice of either party's primary. The Republicans have invited independents to vote in their primaries since 1988, and the Democrats have since 1996.

Party registration is not the straitjacket that many people fear it is. Its purpose is to identify voters' party preferences, and it's the most practical way of doing so. But a party can still invite non-members to vote in its primary if it wants to. Utah, e. g., has party registration, and yet the Democrats invite ALL voters into Democratic primaries.

Getting back to the Virginia Republicans' pledge: As I recall, the party in 2008 announced that it would compel voters to sign the pledge in order to participate in the GOP presidential primary, but the reaction was so negative that the party was forced to abandon this requirement.


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