Bolling is a busted clock: Advocates party registration but gets the reasons in Virginia wrong

Feel free to perform a search here at HoodaThunk? to determine my stance on whether Virginia should be registering voters’ party affiliations. You’ll find that I support the idea and I always have. As I’ve written recently, I firmly believe that candidates put forward for election to public office by any group – political parties, in particular – should be nominated to that position by members of the group in question and not by people who do not hold membership, either intentionally or not. The problem, here in Virginia, is that party affiliation isn’t recorded and that information is explicitly and specifically denied to the State Board of Elections. If there’s no master list of party affiliations to go along with voter roles to be used in determining whether someone is allowed to vote at all, then there’s no way for a poll worker to determine whether the given voter in front of them is a member of the party that’s holding the primary election. This, in fact, is one of the strongest arguments in favor of nominating candidates by convention rather than primary.

Former Lt. Governor Bill Bolling has written a guest column, published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, wherein he advocates for changes in the law so as to implement party registration in Virginia. Reading the article, I am reminded of the old adage that even a busted clock is right twice a day. Bolling is advocating an idea I can support, but his information offered in support of that idea are, frankly, dead wrong. Setting up the question, Bolling asks the readers to consider for a moment what Republicans in Virginia and Mississippi have in common:

Both states recently had high-visibility Republican primaries, but the outcome was not determined by Republicans. Instead, the outcome was determined by independents and Democrats, and these elections vividly demonstrate why we need party registration in Virginia, and why primary elections should be limited to self-identified Republicans and Democrats.

In Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, tea-party backed challenger Dave Brat defeated Rep. Eric Cantor in the Republican primary on June 10. Brat’s victory caught almost everyone by surprise. The question was: How could this have happened? A post-election survey of primary voters conducted by the national polling firm of McLaughlin and Associates may have answered this question.

McLaughlin found that Cantor easily won the vote among prior Republican primary voters. However, Brat won the vote among first-time Republican primary voters, who were likely independents drawn to the polls by the tea party and an understandable frustration with Washington. Brat also won among Democrats, who according to McLaughlin’s analysis accounted for 8,452 of the 65,017 votes cast on Election Day.

In fact, McLaughlin’s post-election survey found that almost half of the voters in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District Republican primary were not Republicans: 33 percent were independents (or refused to be identified) and 13 percent were self-identified Democrats.

Bottom line: Had only Republicans voted in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District primary, Eric Cantor would have won the election by a comfortable margin.

Ridiculous. Bolling, it should be noted, is still miffed that the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) didn’t nominate him to run for Governor in 2013 by acclamation. His festering sense of offense is what caused him to sideline himself during that campaign and – clearly – advocate to others to do the same. The general sense out here in the GOP trenches is that Bolling’s actions are a large part of what cost Cuccinelli the election, particularly since that election was far, far closer than what anyone was saying it would be at the time.

Speaking of “anyone,” please also note that Bolling is depending on post-election polling for his data. The outfit he’s relying upon is the same crew that had Cantor winning that election by something like 30%. Set aside the idea that it would certainly behoove McLaughlin to find out that there was significant non-GOP action in that election. (If that’s true, then it would mitigate their getting blindsided in their predictions.) But others who have looked at the data are finding that the evidence doesn’t support Bolling’s claim. The Washington Post:

While Republican primary turnout spiked by 28 percent over 2012, according to the State Board of Elections, Cantor received nearly 8,500 fewer votes this year than he did in the 2012 Republican primary, a drop that was larger than Brat’s 7,200-vote margin of victory. Regardless of how many Democrats turned out to oppose Cantor, he still would have prevailed had he maintained the same level of support as in his 2012 landslide.

If Democrats showed up in large numbers to vote against Cantor, turnout should have spiked highest from 2012 in Democratic-leaning areas, with Cantor seeing an especially large drop-off in support. In fact, turnout rose slightly more in counties that voted more heavily for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election.

The data shows Republican turnout in support of Dave Brat is what drove Brat’s victory. Likewise, the New York Times:

Mr. Cantor lost by an 11-point margin, and he lost just about everywhere in his district. Mr. Brat fared best in heavily Republican Hanover County, while Mr. Cantor kept the race closer in the more competitive Richmond inner suburbs.

So, in spite of Mr. Bolling’s efforts to paint the primary in VA-7 as a poster-child case of Democrat interference in Republican party functions, the facts and the data show otherwise.

While I’m perfectly fine with dismissing Mr. Bolling’s article as just another attempt to explain away his lack of support among the GOP voters in Virginia (at least to a level of support he’d like to see), I do think that we should press forward with enacting a party registration system. Several years ago a bill was proposed to do that, and I understand that there’s been attempts even as recently as last year. Now, I could support either a public registration, such as is done in other states, or a change in the law that says party-specific functions – such as primaries – are the responsibility of the party in question and won’t be run or administered by the State Board of Elections (SBE). In that latter case, however, it should be understood that the days of people voting in a primary when they’re not active members of a party are over. The GOP could run firehouse primaries like they did earlier this year in nominating Barbara Comstock to run for VA-10’s Congressional seat. But the lunacy that such a primary would have to be open to any registered voter needs to be set aside. Republicans will decide who they want to nominate to the election ballot, Democrats will decide their nominee, and people who chose to remain unaffiliated can take their pick at the general election. If they don’t like that, then they can make a decision as to what party most closely adheres to their values and get involved. Might do us all some good, too.

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