As many regular readers know, I have a strong opposition to registration by political party here in Virginia and, as such, have been rallying others to help defeat SB 902, a bill crafted by my own state senator, Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham). On Friday, while running an errand to and from Dayton, I thought more about the idea.
What if a business wanted the state government to create a database of its customers? What would be your reaction to such an idea? Likely, you would decry the plan as a kind of crony capitalism designed to help that business at the expense of others and weaken the free market, right? How about if a church asked the state to create a database of its membership? Similarly, many would declare it to be an abridgment of our first amendment rights to freedom of religion and association, no? So, if it would be against the free market for a business to ask the government for registration and an affront to the freedom of religion for a church to compel the government to create a database, how is it not an attack on our political freedom for a political party to do likewise?
Here’s another thought. What is the end goal of party registration? Well, most Republicans I’ve spoken with say it is to keep Democrats from voting in Republican primaries. Fair enough, but ask yourself these questions. How can members of a private political party use the power of the state government to keep others out of a publically funded political primary? How does party registration advance the cause of limiting the power of the government?
In 2015, Senators Mark Obenshain and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) debated this issue on the senate floor. As Senator Petersen said, “And I understand that the purpose of the gentleman’s bill is to restrict participation in the primaries…to essentially restrict the people that can participate in those primary elections?” Senator Obenshain replied, “Quite the contrary. That is absolutely not the intention. The intention is to allow the Democratic Party or the Republican Party to establish its own rules as to how they or we are going to nominate our candidates and it is up to the individual party to make that determination.”
So what does the Republican Party hope to accomplish through party registration? Does it, as Senator Petersen claim, plan to use party registration to restrict participation? Well, quickly reading the first several pages of the RPV Party Plan gives us the answer.
Although some people make the argument, as listed above, that the purpose of party registration is to only keep Democrats out of Republican nomination contests (although these contests are funded by the taxpayer and often held in public buildings), according to the RPV Party plan the true goal is to not allow anyone, including independents, to vote in Republican primaries except those voters who have registered with the state as Republicans. It appears that as Senator Petersen suggested, party registration is indeed a tool for restricting participation. In addition, as you will note in the picture above, with registration it would allow the party to prevent any individual who exercises their freedom to support a candidate who best aligns with their principles from participation in Republican primaries, assuming that in an election the voter supported a candidate who did not bear the scarlet R. Nor would voters be allowed to exercise their right to vote in whatever party’s primary they wish during a particular year. No, as the RPV party plan states, if you vote in a primary or convention for a different party, you would be legally barred from voting in a Republican primary for the next five years. My goodness! All this loyalty demanded, not to political principles, but to a political party! I have to ask, does this sound like fascism to you, because it certainly does to me!
If you are wondering, the party plan of the Democratic Party of Virginia is far less draconian, not including a list of time limits and punishments, but on their website they too list:
With party registration, it is likely that members of other political parties, including independents, would be excluded from participation in Democratic primaries should party registration pass.
It should be perfectly obvious to everyone that party registration hurts the average Virginia voter and hurts political competition. Would you be happy if the Virginia government created a database for Walmart that told them who shopped at Target so they could keep them out of their stores? Or how about if the Presbyterian Church used a government created list to determine who could and could not receive communion? If we wouldn’t allow a business or a church to create a statewide registry with the help of the Virginia government, why is it somehow okay for a political party to do so? Party registration benefits both the Republican and Democratic Parties while simultaneously greatly hindering other political parties from the opportunity to rise up to challenge them. Whether in business, religion, or politics, registration kills competition.
Let me close with a quote from Senator Chap Petersen shortly before party registration was last defeated in 2015.
There are two winners from this bill. One is the Republican Party, the other one is the Democratic Party. The parties are going to get so much more power if this bill passes, but let me tell you who is going to lose. It’s going to be ordinary people that just want to participate in elections.
You know, not everybody labels themselves as a Democrat or Republican or even an independent. They might be a Libertarian one day, the next day they wake up a liberal, and the next day they wake up a conservative.
The bottom line is that we live in a free country, God bless it, and we live in a free Commonwealth and people ought to be free to associate. And political parties, we owe them no favors. Okay? We’re not here to put them in power and to give them the maximum power. We’re here to allow people to participate.