“When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I’d vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for [the] Republican.” - Mitt Romney in a February 18, 2007, ABC News interview.
From conservative Dixiecrats to liberal RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), every party has members who disagree with the official party platform. There is something disturbing, however, about a person who joins a political party for the express purpose of undermining it.
Sadly, Ohio’s election laws will allow otherwise upstanding Ohio voters to do just exactly that during the March 2012 primary election.
Ohio technically has a “closed” primary system, meaning that you cannot vote in a party’s primary election unless you are a registered member of that party. However, this requirement is virtually meaningless, since you can change your registration at the polling place on the day of the election by simply requesting the ballot of your new party.
If your request to change parties is challenged, you must sign a statement declaring that you “desire to be affiliated with and support the principles of the political party” represented on the ballot. There is no legal definition of what this statement means.
However, if an Ohio voter were to admit that he or she changed parties for the sole purpose of electing the party’s weakest possible candidate in the primary election, the voter probably would be guilty of voter fraud (a felony under Ohio Revised Code 3599.36).
The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections occasionally has threatened to prosecute voters who “maliciously” change party affiliations during a primary election, but so far as I can tell, it has never followed through on this threat.
Now before I draw angry complaints from the Romney supporters in Northeast Ohio, let me hasten to say that Mr. Romney did NOT break any election laws in Massachusetts when he voted in the Democratic Party primaries. Massachusetts has an open primary system, and Mr. Romney was legally entitled to vote in the Democratic primary, regardless of where his actual political sympathies lay. I am not questioning the legality of his actions, only the motivation.
The problem of malicious cross-voting is not restricted to any one party. For example, since the Democratic presidential primary is irrelevant this year, some Democrats could be tempted to vote in the Republican primary in an attempt to nominate a weak Republican candidate. I can’t help wondering how Mr. Romney would feel if he were to lose Ohio based on votes from cross-over Democrats.
Of course, there are perfectly legitimate reasons for switching parties for a primary election. There is nothing wrong with a voter changing parties, if the motive is to get the party to run a better candidate in the general election. The entire country benefits when voters get to choose between the best candidates that the parties have to offer.
However, letting a person vote in a party’s primary for the sole purpose of hurting the party goes against the fundamental concept of a fair and honest election. As the State Legislature considers new laws to prevent voter fraud, this is one of the issues that it needs to address.
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Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter. If you need legal advice on a particular situation, please consult an attorney.