- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Republican Party of Virginia wants to ban members of other political parties from participating in Republican primary elections.

The ongoing legal battle could reshape the state’s political landscape by deciding whether crossover voters — independents and opposition party members — will continue to have a hand in another party’s nomination process.

“It makes sure that the only people who get nominated are the most hard core of each party,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican. “So the most liberal of the most liberal, and the most conservative of the most conservative will be the party nominee. The average person who doesn’t vote the party line and thinks about who they vote for before they flip the switch will be excluded from the primary.”

As it stands, Virginia does not require incumbents to be nominated through a primary election. Under the law, an incumbent seeking re-election has other options of winning a nomination such as a convention.

However, if the incumbent selects a primary, the law says it must be open to all voters. Voters in Virginia are not required to register by party.

In U.S. District Court in Richmond yesterday, Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, on behalf of the 11th Senatorial District Republican Committee, argued that the open primary law is unconstitutional, because it infringes on a party’s right to pick a candidate without outsiders interfering.

“The open primary law forces them to accept Democrats into their nomination process and that violates” their constitutional right of free association, the Fairfax County Republican said. “The right to associate includes the right not to associate, which means right to exclude opponents.”

Mr. Cuccinelli said party outsiders should only be given the right to vote in the primary if they sign an oath pledging their support for the Republican Party.

In response, the Attorney General’s Office, arguing for the Virginia State Board of Elections, has said the law is constitutional because a party can choose from different nominating processes. The elections board also is concerned that closed primaries would necessitate party registration statewide.

Those familiar with the case say there are competing interests at play.

Supporters of Mr. Cuccinelli’s argument think members of a political party should have the sole responsibility of selecting its candidate because those people reflect a party’s best interest.

Opponents say the open primary system gives every eligible voter a voice, and that closed primaries would yield hard-line candidates.

Mr. Albo, who is a lawyer, said that closing primaries to one party is “the worst idea” he has heard.

“This is a way to make sure the partisan politics will be on steroids,” he said. “The other side of the argument is they don’t like the situation where Democrats will come in and vote for the weakest candidate to improve their party’s candidate in the general election. That is a legitimate problem to address.”

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, said he has “mixed feelings” about the issue.

“It’s a two-edged sword,” Mr. Griffith said. “On the one hand, we would make sure Republicans were picking the Republican candidate. On the other hand, it has the potential to estrange independent voters who may be leaning Republican … [but] some people don’t want to be pigeonholed into being Republican.”

Mr. Griffith, also a lawyer, said open primaries helped pull voters into the Republican Party between the 1970s and 1990s.

The judge is expected to rule on the case sometime next month.

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