On Tuesday, SB 1060 came to the floor of the Virginia Senate. Sponsored by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), this bill would bring the state voter registration by political party. Doing so would create closed or semi-closed primaries where only declared members of a political party (and perhaps independents) could participate in a given party primary.
A fair number of liberty-minded Republicans and Libertarians have taken to Facebook to oppose SB 1060; some of us have contacted Senator Obenshain’s office as well. I listed my objections to this idea in a piece last week. In addition, both Deb Fitzgerald, the Chairman of the Harrisonburg Democratic Party, and I offered our concerns in Wednesday’s issue of the Daily News Record.
On the Senate floor, Senator Obenshain was the lead proponent of the bill while Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) was the most vocal opponent. Senator Obenshain declared that by passing party registration, Virginia would conform to a majority of other states. In addition, doing so would grant political parties the power to “choose who gets to participate in that…process.” As Senator Petersen stated, “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.” As Senator Petersen goes on to say, those who are outside the two major parties (such as Libertarians), or others who desire to switch political parties could find themselves completely excluded from the process. Unfortunately, the Republican Party of Virginia has already moved in this direction, reviving the much reviled loyalty oath and changing their party plan last year by expelling members who participate in the nomination process of other parties. In addition, Senators John Watkins (R-Powhatan) and Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax County) also explained why they would not support party registration.
The vote that followed was exceedingly close, 19-21, following mostly along party lines. Every Republican voted in favor except Senators Watkins and Walter Stosch (R-Henrico) who joined with the Democrats to defeat SB 1060.
HB 1518, Delegate Steve Landes’ (R-Augusta) party registration bill also died yesterday as the Privilege and Elections subcommittee failed to recommend reporting it to the floor of the House of Delegates.
Below is the full debate on SB 1060. Thanks to Blue Virginia for posting this video to YouTube.