The South Carolina Republican Party has been unable to achieve its objective of voter registration by party – but the GOP is not giving up.
The party has gone so far as to sue over the present primary voting system, seeking to overturn state laws that prevent political parties in the state from holding primaries in which only people registered with a party can vote in its primary.
The GOP argues South Carolina law allowing a registered voter to cast ballots in any political party’s primaries denies parties the1st Amendment right of “free association,” a legal concept meaning individuals’ right to express themselves and promote common interests as a group.
A federal judge in 2011 rejected the lawsuit by the GOP, saying that if Republicans don’t want outsiders to help choose their nominees, they have other options, like picking candidates at a party convention or filling out petitions to get them on the ballot.
Since then, the leaders of the S.C. Republican Party have maintained support for registration by party but have changed their approach. The party is seeking passage of legislation before the S.C. House that would allow for a partisan voter registration option on registration forms. A voter could voluntarily disclose party affiliation of "Democrat," ''Republican," ''Independent" or "other."
On Monday, the GOP took a step toward building momentum for the change by announcing it will ask Republican primary voters in June whether they approve of the declaration of party affiliation in voter registration.
"By not allowing that option, the government creates a barrier that inhibits political parties in connecting with voters in a day when there is already so much apathy about politics," GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said. "Political parties need to be able to do a better job of connecting with and engaging like-minded individuals in the political process, and partisan registration makes that easier."
The referendum is advisory in nature and the legislation specifically states designating party affiliation "may not be used to restrict or limit a voter's full discretion to participate in the primary election of his choosing,” but the GOP’s ultimate objective is broader. The party does not want crossover voting in which Democrats can impact outcomes. And it wants the many South Carolinians calling themselves independents but historically voting for Republicans to limit themselves to GOP primaries.
With Republicans in control of state government, the likelihood of passage of the voluntary measure seems good. Going further should not happen.
South Carolina voters should treasure their independent status and the option of choosing a primary in which to vote should remain.
While South Carolina Democrats have not challenged the present system in the same way as the majority GOP, party regulars on both sides of the political fence always fear voters loyal to the opposition will seek to manipulate results by voting in the opponent’s primary. There are examples of that happening, but it is not a problem that justifies scratching the present system.
Most voters cast ballots in the affirmative.
And with turnout as poor as it is for primaries (20 percent in non-presidential years), nothing should be done to diminish interest and limit the ability of people to vote.