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Unconstitutional: Va. GOP to require loyalty oath in presidential primary

By Andrew Cain


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The state Republican Party will require voters to sign a loyalty oath in order to participate in the March 6 presidential primary.

Anyone who wants to vote must sign a form at the polling place pledging to support the eventual Republican nominee for president. Anyone who refuses to sign the pledge will be barred from voting.

During a brief meeting Wednesday at the state Capitol, the State Board of Elections voted 3-0 to approve three forms developed by the election board’s staff to implement the loyalty pledge requested by the state GOP.

The board also held a drawing that determined Texas Rep. Ron Paul will appear first on the primary ballot, followed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the only other candidate who qualified for the ballot. The state GOP previously announced that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not amass enough valid signatures to qualify.

Also Wednesday, Paul Goldman, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, and Patrick McSweeney, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, held a news conference at the state Capitol. They urged legislators to pass emergency legislation establishing a standard — through criteria such as polling data — that would get additional Republican candidates on the ballot March 6.

Legislators say changes to Virginia’s election laws are virtually impossible in time for the primary. State law requires that absentee ballots be mailed by Jan. 21 – 45 days ahead of the election. The legislature does not convene until Jan. 11.

As for the loyalty oath, the elections board approved a notice to inform absentee voters of the pledge, a sign to hang at polling places and the pledge form itself.

Signs for polling places and the pledge form will advise voters that “Section 24.2-545 of the Code of Virginia allows the political party holding a primary to determine requirements for voting in the primary, including ‘the signing of a pledge by the voter of his intention to support the party’s candidate when offering to vote in the primary.’ ”

The pledge will require the voter to sign and to print his name beneath a line that says: “I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for president.”

Virginians do not register to vote by party. That means any registered voter can cast a ballot in a presidential primary. If the Democrats and Republicans hold primaries on the same day, a voter must choose one or the other.

In Virginia’s 2000 GOP presidential primary, won by Texas Gov. George W. Bush, voters were required to sign a different pledge: “I, the undersigned, state that I do not intend to participate in the nomination process of any other party than the Republican Party.”

GOP officials said at the time that national party rules required a loyalty oath in states, such as Virginia, that do not have party registration.

Virginia did not hold a GOP presidential primary in 2004, because Bush was seeking re-election. In November 2007 the GOP State Central Committee voted to rescind their demand for a loyalty pledge in Virginia’s Feb. 12, 2008 Republican presidential primary, won by John McCain.

GOP officials considered a pledge unnecessary because Democrats would be inclined to vote in the Democratic primary – also on Feb. 12, 2008 — that featured Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Virginia will not hold a Democratic primary in March because Obama was the only candidate who qualified.

During Wednesday’s drawing for ballot spots, Kimberly Bowers, vice chairwoman of the elections board, picked one of two identical film canisters from a crystal bowl. It contained Paul’s name. Board Secretary Donald Palmer then picked the second canister, which contained Romney’s name.

At the afternoon news conference, Goldman charged that the state GOP used two different standards to vet the signatures candidates submitted for ballot access and that Democrats used another standard in assessing President Barack Obama’s signatures. Goldman said the differing standards raise constitutional issues.

Late Wednesday the state Republican Party released a lengthy defense of its procedures, under which a candidate who submitted more than 15,000 “facially valid” signatures “would be presumed to be in compliance with Virginia’s 10,000-signature law” to get on the ballot.

In part, the statement says that “RPV has never encountered a situation where a candidate who submitted 15,000 signatures has failed to make the ballot (absent cases of obvious fraud)” and that the state party repeatedly encouraged campaigns to submit at least 15,000 signatures “in an abundance of caution.”

“Despite this early notice and RPV’s exhortations to candidates, only one candidate availed himself of the 15,000 signature threshold – Governor Mitt Romney.”

The statement says the state GOP “counted Governor Romney’s signatures, reviewed them for facial validity, and determined he submitted well over 15,000. Never in the party’s history has a candidate who submitted more than 15,000 signatures had 33 percent invalidated. The party is confident that Governor Romney met the statutory threshold.”

The GOP said Paul “submitted just under 15,000, and was submitted to signature-by-signature scrutiny on the same basis as the other candidates who submitted fewer than 15,000 signatures.”

It said that Paul had cleared the standard in state law – at least 10,000 signatures, including 400 from each of the 11 congressional districts – “with ease.”

The Republican Party’s statement said  Gingrich and Perry “did not come close to the 10,000 valid signature threshold.”

The state GOP said it regrets that Gingrich and Perry did not qualify for the primary.

“But the failure of these two candidates to meet the state requirements does not call into question the accuracy of the party’s certification of the two candidates who are duly qualified to appear on the ballot.”

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One response to “Unconstitutional: Va. GOP to require loyalty oath in presidential primary

  1. Pingback: Virginia + GOP = Party Distrust « Under The LobsterScope

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