‘Let me see your credentials!’ A look at Ohio’s voter registration by party and why Virginia needs it

Pat HaleyBy Patrick Haley

“Get that spellbinder’s credentials,” shouts Mayor Shinn in the popular musical, The Music Man, when the con man professor Harold Hill comes to River City, Iowa, to start a boys’ band.

Richmond, Virginia, isn’t River City, but in the aftermath of the recent Eric Cantor versus David Brat election, we hear many calling to see ‘the credentials’ of some of the primary voters.

Let me share my credentials with you.  My wife, Brenda, and I lived in Virginia for twelve years before returning to our native Ohio in 2007.  We lived initially in Staunton, a charming small town nestled within the Shenandoah Valley, and later we lived in Henrico County.

I was Chair of the Staunton Republican Committee and was very active in Republican politics throughout our time in the Commonwealth including working for Congressman Bob Goodlatte and former Governor Jim Gilmore.

Political traditions and customs differ from state to state, of course, but I never quite understood why political party registration was not part of the Virginia political landscape.  In my mind, it causes a great deal of unnecessary confusion and in the eyes of some, injustice.

Often, when we think of the word party we think of a gathering of people who come together to socialize, converse and have a joyful time.  However, in today’s political climate when we hear the word party, we immediately think of quarrelling and disagreement.

It was always my understanding that the primary reason for a political party to exist was to elect candidates who share the same political positions and principles of the voter.  According to the earliest accounts, there were no political parties in the early days of our republic.  It didn’t take long; however, for some to determine that there was strength in numbers.  Like-minded people soon came together and organized.  Each party, Republican and Democrat, represented certain platform positions.  This unity gives people an idea that when they vote for a certain candidate, they have some expectation of how the candidate stands on issues.

Today, voters are reluctant to register for a particular party. However, crossover voting, be it Republican or Democrat, is rife with problems, sometimes skewing the results of an election for the wrong reasons.

The State of Ohio has registration by political party.  When a resident of Ohio walks into the polling place to vote at a primary election, the poll worker asks the voter which ballot they prefer – Republican or Democrat.  It is possible in Ohio to change political parties, but according to the director of our local election board, the Ohio Revised Code states that Board of Election clerks can challenge the voter if that official has personal knowledge the individual is a member of a different party.

When a person votes in a primary election in Ohio, the Board of Election designates them either Republican or Democrat, depending upon which ballot they requested and voted. If a person decided to change their party affiliation, which they could do, the voter, for example, cannot sign the petition of a candidate of their former party until they vote again in a primary election and change their party affiliation again.  All voting records are public information.

It is even more difficult to run as an Independent candidate if one has been previously associated with a political party.  A potential Independent candidate would need to prove to the satisfaction of the local Board of Election that they are not a partisan candidate masquerading as an Independent candidate.  If one donated to one of the partisan political parties, for example, the local board could disqualify the candidate seeking Independent status.

I am not suggesting Ohio’s method is foolproof.  It is difficult to contain political mischief, but when I compare the two systems in Ohio and Virginia, party registration seems to work best.

My family misses Virginia and our many friends there.  However, we do not miss the ‘open’ primaries.  It is far from me, as an Ohio resident, to suggest how Virginia should run her elections.  My personal experience supports the notion that political party registration strengthens, brings order, and fairness to the political process.

It seems to me, it would be an easy way to solve a complex problem.

Pat and his wife, Brenda, lived in Virginia for 12 years before moving back to their native Ohio where Pat serves as a Clinton County Commissioner. While in Virginia, he worked for the Henrico County Sheriff’s Department, was as a member of Governor Jim Gilmore’s administration, and worked on the personal staff of Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte. He is an author and presenter on issues related to organizational change and law enforcement accreditation, publishing in the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Virginia Criminal Intelligence Association Magazine, The Validator. A published author, Pat wrote The Danes Murders: Lost Innocence in Lees Creek, a non-fiction account of the murder of a Clinton County family, and recently released his second book, The Storyteller: Growing up in Clinton County, Ohio.

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2 thoughts on “‘Let me see your credentials!’ A look at Ohio’s voter registration by party and why Virginia needs it

  1. […] The internet has exploded with the news of today’s landmark Supreme Court decision in favor of craft supply giant Hobby Lobby and its stand against the overreaching of Obamacare. Every news outlet has coverage so I won’t repeat it here but be sure to check out Justin Higgins’ post at JHPolitics (see Supreme Court sides with Hobby Lobby against Obamacare contraception mandate). […]

  2. Clay Ramsay says:

    The Virginia answer to open primaries is party conventions, which we have had for the last several cycles. I think registering by party is ridiculous and offensive. The party affiliation of voters is none of the state’s business. However, it is perfectly proper for the state to ensure that voters do not vote in primaries of BOTH parties, as happened in Mississippi. I have quite a few family members who are residents of Ohio. I cannot think of anything about Ohio which Virginia should emulate. It is ironic to me that the state of Ohio seems more concerned about voter registration than voter identification. Why doesn’t Ohio require photo id? And why doesn’t Ohio purge its roles of dead voters and those voters with current registrations in other states?

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