The Virginia Loyalty Oath

With much attention focused on primary ballot qualifications that will somehow exclude the current state frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, and leave voters with a choice between only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, the Virginia Republican Party appears determined to make sure its national audience doesn’t get bored and go back to wandering the cornfields of Iowa.

The important business of determining which of the two approved candidates should appear first on the ballot was disposed of first.  Ron Paul won the coveted top spot in a drawing, which involved two film canisters in a crystal bowl, one containing Paul’s name and one holding Romney’s.  How they obtained film canisters in the age of digital cameras remains an enduring mystery.

With this task out of the way, the Virginia Republican Party voted 3-0 to implement a loyalty oath for Republican voters.  The Richmond Times-Dispatch explains that “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.”

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.”

This is deemed necessary because Virginia has an open primary, in which any registered voter can cast a ballot.  The Times-Dispatch did not explain how violations of the loyalty oath during the general election would be enforced.  If someone signs the pledge, votes in the GOP primary, and then votes Obama in the general election, what happens to them?  (With a little sinister imagination, that would make a great episode of The Twilight Zone.) 

Wouldn’t it be easier, and less creepy, to just limit the Republican primary to Republican voters, and vice versa for Democrats?

As it turns out, this loyalty oath brainstorm is a violation of Virginia code, which says:

If the party has determined that it will hold a presidential primary, each registered voter of the Commonwealth shall be given an opportunity to participate in the presidential primary of the political party, as defined in §24.2-101, subject to requirements determined by the political party for participation in its presidential primary.

The requirements may include, but shall not be limited to, 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 requirements applicable to a party’s primary shall be determined at least 90 days prior to the primary date and certified to, and approved by, the State Board.

(Emphasis mine, and hat tip to Vivian Page for noticing something that apparently eluded the Virginia Republican Party.)  The primary is March 6, which is only 68 days away.

Meanwhile, on the steps of the state Capitol, former chairmen of the state Republican and Democrat Parties held a press conference urging the legislature to pass emergency laws that would shovel additional Republican candidates onto the ballot, using poll standings and similar criteria instead of petition signatures.  Unfortunately, it’s probably too late for that, too.  The legislature doesn’t convene until January 11, and the absentee ballots have to go out ten days later.