Pickerill: When Is a Republican not a Republican?

October 26, 2015

by John Pickerill

Since being elected chairman of a county Republican Party two years ago, I’ve heard a lot of people claim how they’ve been a “registered Republican” for a number of years. That always puzzles me. According to Indiana state law, there’s no such thing as a registered Republican (or Democrat or any other party for that matter).

When you register to vote, you aren’t asked to which political party you belong. Nor is there mention of “registered Republican” in the Rules of the Indiana State Republican Party. So if there’s no such thing, then how do we know who is allowed to vote in a Republican primary election that decides the Republican nominees in the general election? And how do we tell who is allowed to file as a Republican candidate in the primary election?

The answer is we don’t. Anyone can vote in a Republican primary and anyone can run as a Republican candidate, even people who are radical left-wing Democrats or otherwise hostile to the principles of the GOP platform (i.e., protecting people from government interference in their lives, decreasing regulations and taxes, reducing government spending, promoting free-market solutions, supporting the right to life of the unborn, supporting gun rights.)

According to Indiana law, voters are affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic Party based on how they voted in the last primary election. If you cast a Republican ballot the last time you voted in a primary election, you are automatically affiliated with the Republican Party. It doesn’t even matter if you are a Democrat officeholder.

You may be asking why someone who is obviously a member of a different political party be allowed to cast a Republican ballot in the first place. Again, can just anyone cast a Republican ballot at a primary?

Yes, pretty much. On primary election day, the poll workers are given a list of every registered voter (Republican, Democrat or otherwise) for their precinct. State law says if a person’s name shows up on that list, that person has a right to vote in the Republican primary unless the voter is challenged by another Republican voter from that same precinct.

So that challenge can stop them from casting a Republican ballot, right? Not really. People can go ahead and vote in the Republican primary as long as they swear (cross their heart and hope to die) that they voted for mostly Republican candidates in the last general election and that they also intend to vote for the Republican candidates in the next general election.

It is impossible, of course, to ever prove if the challenged voter is telling the truth. So it’s pretty easy for someone to fake party affiliation. And it’s pretty easy for anyone to run as a Republican in a “red” county or district, to trick enough Republican voters into thinking they’ll hold office like a Republican — and then once they get elected, to do the very opposite.

In summary, when a candidate calls himself or herself “Republican,” it doesn’t mean a whole lot these days. It certainly doesn’t give a voter much information about his or her politics. All it really means is the candidate checked the “Republican” box on his/her declaration-of-candidacy form.

So how do we fix this broken system? Well, it’s interesting to note that Indiana law only dictates party affiliation for the Republican and Democratic parties. All other political parties decide party affiliation for themselves. Their own rules determine who is allowed to vote in their process for selecting their nominees for the general election and who is allowed to file as one of their candidates.

Perhaps the best solution is for Indiana to do away with its convoluted primary system and treat every political party equally. Maybe the Republican brand would mean something unique again. Until then, it will become more and more like the Democratic Party.

John Pickerill, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. The views expressed are his own and are not intended to reflect the position of his county’s Republican Central Committee.

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