As reported here at Bearing Drift , the Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee has voted unanimously to rescind the requirement for a Statement of Affiliation confirming that a voter is a Republican before casting a ballot in March 1’s presidential preference primary. SCC had passed the requirement for the the Statement of Affiliation at their September 2015 meeting.
There are going to be plenty of Republicans and many non-Republicans, especially Donald Trump supporters, who will be cheering this change. They shouldn’t be. This was a bad decision from a State Central Committee that can’t seem to stop making bad decisions.
The fundamental issue here is the old axiom that two wrongs don’t make a right. The Statement of Affiliation nonsense should never have been passed in the first place, but once it was, and once voting started – and it started January 15 – it’s absolutely ridiculous for us to be changing the rules.
So what happens now? We don’t know. The State Board of Elections has to figure out what to do. Since last September, the Registrars and Electoral Boards across Virginia have been grappling with how to implement the Statement of Affiliation. Many have begun training of their Election Officers, and they’ve been working to ensure that every locality is prepared for RPV’s requirement. Statements have been printed and approved.
At the same time, gallons of ink, both real and digital, have been spilt across the Commonwealth arguing for and against the Statement. RPV and others, including this author, have spent considerable time trying to educate the public on what the Statement of Affiliation was (simply admitting you’re a Republican) and what it wasn’t (a legally enforceable loyalty oath). As recently as a month ago , RPV was still defending the Statement of Affiliation. RPV even went to court to defend it  and won. All of that was for nothing. So why did SCC decide to rescind the loyalty oath now after four months of defending it?
Because of, as the Virginian-Pilot  reported, “bad publicity.”
Not because it was a bad idea in the first place, ginned up by the same paranoiacs who demand conventions for fear that a handful of Democrats may influence our party processes. Not because it would have suppressed voter turnout for Republicans. Not because it would have angered a lot of voters who didn’t expect it, despite the constant complaining about it. Not because it was an unnecessary public expense and a waste of time and energy for Election Officers to implement. And not because the claims made by proponents – that it would be a data goldmine – were not true. None of that was good enough.
What was? Bad publicity.
You know what’s worse than bad publicity? Violating the Constitution. Requiring some voters to do something that other voters aren’t required to do. Demanding a bureaucratic boondoggle and then backing out when you’re rightfully criticized for it. Appearing to cave in to the likes of Donald Trump and his bullying tactics. And the absolute worst thing possible – changing the rules of an election after voting has begun.
When I was Secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral Board, I was part of a Board that stood up to the Republican-controlled State Board of Elections when they tried to change the rules of an election after voting had already begun. I took a lot of heat for that, but we did the right thing. There is absolutely no excuse for changing the rules of an election once it has begun. It’s unfair, and no matter how you do it, you will always create the belief in the minds of the voters that something inappropriate is happening.
RPV screwed up when the pro-convention “grassroots” activists who control State Central pushed through the statement of affiliation back in September. There was no way to fix this once it happened, especially months later after voting began. Even when their leader threw them under the bus , they should have stayed the course. RPV should have taken its lumps and accepted that they made a mistake and pledged to not do it in the future. But by reversing themselves, they’ve compounded the injury, sown a lot of unnecessary discord and disinformation, and changed the rules of an election that is already in full swing around the Commonwealth.
To add insult to injury, RPV issued a statement following the announcement, that essentially blamed SBE for their rescission, and tried to blame Attorney General Herring for a correct interpretation of federal law that would have stopped voters from being turned completely away at the polls if they refused to sign the statement.
That not one State Central member thought this was a bad idea is disheartening. That Chairman John Whitbeck would not demand that State Central lie in the bed they made in September is equally disheartening. That RPV would have the audacity to try to blame their screw up on anybody but themselves is more than disheartening – it’s an insult to the intelligence of every voter in the Commonwealth, a desperate attempt at turd polishing that is more transparent than half the stuff in Miley Cyrus’s closet. This is the kind of feckless, rudderless leadership that Republicans have been complaining against throughout this election process. Instead of standing on principle, the SCC cut and run when they were subjected to the rightful anger of an electorate that recognized their original move was unnecessary, and an electorate that largely doesn’t share their fears or prejudices. This is one of those situations where reversing yourself is worse than simply moving forward. There are no take-backs when it comes to elections.
If a few months of bad publicity is enough to justify violating the Constitutional entitlement of equal protection for every voter by altering the terms of an election that’s already started, it’s time for a Augean-style cleansing of RPV.