Many people in the Commonwealth are aware that we have a primary coming up. Very few realize that we actually have two primaries coming up – both scheduled for the same day – Tuesday, June 13, 2017.
The Code of Virginia sets the dates on which we hold primary elections. However, political parties determine whether or not to use a primary to select their respective nominees for the November general election.
And the parties don’t have to choose the same method for every office in a given year. For example, in Lynchburg the Democratic Party selected their candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney by a caucus. Their chairman told me that with the cost of the venue and the printing of ballots, they spent about $100 to select their candidate. Republicans on the other hand decided on a primary. This costs each candidate for a contested nomination a filing fee of about two percent (2%) of the annual salary for that office. For constitutional officers such as Treasurer, Sheriff, and Commonwealth’s Attorney, the fee to have your name on a primary ballot is in the $1500-$2000 range. (That’s money that would be better spent defeating Democrats in November – but that’s a different story.)
Regardless of the nomination method for local offices, both major parties have chosen to use a primary to nominate candidates for statewide offices. Both Republicans and Democrats will (at least they have an obligation to) go to the polls in June to select their parties’ candidates. But to be more accurate, there will be TWO primaries on Tuesday, June 13th, and voters can legally only vote in one, not both.
We call it a “Dual Primary.” That means the Democrats have a primary and the Republicans have a primary. Both primaries happen at the same time and in the same place, i.e. your regular precinct polling location. That seems simple enough, but it does often cause a problem. As an example, here in Lynchburg several of the Republican candidates have friends who are Democrats, and those Democrats want to vote for their Republican friends. Those same Democrats also want to have a say in whether Tom Perriello or Ralph Northam is their party’s nominee for governor. If past history is any indication, a number of voters will be very unhappy when they find out that they can’t do both.
By law, a voter can vote in either the Democratic primary or the Republican primary, but not both. Our local Democratic Party chairman doesn’t want Democrats voting in our primary because it messes with her database. We don’t want them voting in our primary because our nominees should be decided by Republicans, not by Democrats. (That’s one of my major reasons for opposing primaries.)
At the training sessions that each Registrar’s Office in the Commonwealth is required by law to hold prior to a dual primary, we are instructed to ask, “In which primary would you like to vote?” We can’t use phrases like “Do you want a Democratic ballot or a Republican ballot?” because some will think we are trying to tell them how to vote and will file complaints.
The best thing we can do is carefully explain to voters that there are two primaries, and that they can only vote in one. Some voters will still be quite angry, but I’d rather deal with an angry voter than with a criminal charge for violating election law.
There are two things you can do to help. First, understand the “dual primary” concept yourself. Second, since every jurisdiction is having a dual primary, make sure your precinct workers understand the information in this email. They don’t want to waste resources on people who are voting in the Democratic primary. Help them be prepared to answer questions that voters might ask on primary day about why they can only vote for some races and not others. It will help make the primary go more smoothly for everyone.
Steve “Doc” Troxel, Ph.D.
P.S. Call your favorite candidates and see what you can do to help them win. With only three weeks left until the primary, they can use all the help you can provide.