The Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee (“SCC”), meeting in Richmond, today voted to remove the requirement it had adopted in September 2015 to require voters in its March 1 presidential primary to sign a statement indicating they are Republican.
The move comes after outcry from various quarters of the party, notably from Donald Trump, who excoriated the party for what he alleged was a move designed to exclude voters sympathetic to his candidacy. However, this does not seem to have made any impact of the SCC’s decision.
The SCC’s vote in September was to adopt a specific, GOP-branded form that included the term “Property of the Republican Party of Virginia.” The intention was for the forms to then be collected and returned to the party. However, what the Democrat-controlled State Board of Elections adopted was a form generated by Department of Elections staff keeping only 9 of the original 47 words adopted by the SCC, and replacing GOP branding with intimidating state board legalese.
Further, the Attorney General issued guidance that those people refusing to sign must be offered a provisional ballot instead, under the federal Help America Vote Act. However, even though tens of thousands of people might cast provisional ballots in this scenario, the code of Virginia (24.2-545) requires that voters must meet the requirements set forth by the party for participation in the party’s presidential primary. In other words, every local electoral board would be bound by law to NOT COUNT those provisional ballots.
One need not be a political guru to imagine what the headlines around the state and across the nation would be the day after the March 1 primary when tens of thousands of GOP primary voters had their votes cast aside. And, one does not have to be a lawyer to imagine what a candidate who felt injured by this would seek as a remedy.
Recognizing this, the SCC adopted a motion from First District GOP Chairman Eric Herr, and seconded by Fourth District GOP Chairman Jack Wilson, to rescind the requirement. The motion made clear that it was motivated not by any disagreement about the party’s right of free association, but by recognition that the McAuliffe administration and Attorney General Mark Herring had made exercise of that First Amendment right nearly impossible.
The motion was adopted by acclamation, meaning there were no dissenting votes.