Voters in Virginia's Republican presidential primary will not have to pledge support for the party's nominee in the general election, the state Board of Elections ruled yesterday, reversing an earlier decision.
Instead, the board said, voters in the Feb. 29 primary must promise only that they will not participate in the nomination process of any other party.
Board of Elections Chairman Pina Brooks Swift, who changed her original vote, said yesterday's compromise was designed to help the state Republican Party conform to national party rules while not intruding upon voter rights. The board approved the rule on a 2 to 1 vote.
"As far as I'm concerned, [the original oath] questions the voters' integrity," Swift said. "I think it's wrong for anyone to tell me that when I vote in [the primary], I have to do the same thing in November."
State Republican Party officials decided in June that they would hold a presidential primary, but they were concerned that the Republican National Committee might block the state's delegation to next year's national convention if primary voters were not required to pledge party loyalty. Virginia does not register voters by party.
Board Secretary Cameron Quinn, who also voted in favor of the pledge, said the board was willing to help the Republicans conform with their party's national rules, but noted that it will be almost impossible to hold voters legally responsible for violating their promise, which merely requires voters to state that they "do not intend to participate" in another party's nomination process. State Democrats will conduct caucuses, rather than a presidential primary.
State Republican Party officials said yesterday that the compromise should ensure that the Virginia delegation is seated at the national convention, though state party spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the open primary system still raises questions.
"It's no secret that some Democrats would want to vote in our primary and skew our results," Murtaugh said. Some Republicans fear out-of-party voters might cast ballots for underdog candidates, he said.
Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, said some voters might have found the original loyalty oath offensive.
"This seems to be a compromise that maybe not everyone will approve of, but is far more reasonable than asking people to take an oath of loyalty," Holsworth said.
"The movement nationwide is almost entirely in the other direction, with more open primaries, as opposed to more closed primaries. There are fewer and fewer people who consider themselves absolute partisans these days."