LAW REVIEW 1105
Virginia-Please Don’t Disenfranchise
Military Personnel in Primaries
By Captain Samuel F. Wright, JAGC, USN
7.0—Military Voting Rights
Virginia and most other
states are having fiscal difficulties and are looking for ways to save
money. Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain
has proposed to terminate state and local government funding for the process of
nominating major party candidates for federal and state office. He contends that the parties themselves
should be required to pay all these costs.
In an e-mail blast to constituents on Jan. 6, 2011, he wrote:
Ending Subsidies to Political Parties
Virginia is in somewhat unique situation: we don’t allow voter registration by
political party, but we still pay for party primaries. And the truth is, we pay through the nose,
sometimes as much as $20 per voter.
There are perfectly good alternatives. Parties often choose to nominate via
convention or party canvass, or through a “firehouse primary,” in which a
limited number of polling places are opened in each locality, usually for fewer
hours than in a government-run election.
All of these methods are common, all are relatively affordable—and all
are paid for by the political parties themselves.
If a political party wants a conventional primary,
fine—but they can pay for it. Our
localities are burdened enough as it is.
If a party cannot or will not put up that much money, they can always go
with a cheaper option. Our localities
can ill afford it—and under my proposal, they won’t have to.
I fundamentally disagree with Senator
Obenshain’s contention that firehouse primaries, party canvasses, or party
conventions constitute “perfectly good alternatives.” These alternatives do not serve the 34,447
Virginians serving on active duty in our armed forces, outside the Commonwealth
of Virginia. These service members are
paying Virginia state income tax, as well as federal income tax, through
withholding from their salaries, no matter where the service of our country has
taken them. If they are to vote at all,
it must be by absentee ballot, and absentee voting is not an option in a
convention, canvass, or firehouse primary.
Instead of going to more of these “cheaper options,” I would like to see
Virginia require a conventional primary (including an absentee voting option)
for all elections to public office.
I fundamentally disagree with
Senator Obenshain’s basic premise that financing the primary is the
responsibility of the party, not the government. The nomination process is an integral part of
the election process, just as the regular season and the playoffs are an
integral part of determination of the Super Bowl champion. See
Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944), holding that the primary was part
of the election and rejecting the argument that the Democratic Party of Texas
was a “private association” and could constitutionally determine its own
membership rules and exclude African Americans from participation.
This issue is near and dear
to my heart. Almost every year, I attend
the Virginia Republican State Convention as a delegate. I signed up to attend and planned to attend
the convention in May 2001, but the Navy Reserve deployed me to Bahrain a few
days before the convention, so I had to miss it.
In a speech to the House of
Commons on Aug. 20, 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said: “The
gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the
world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who,
undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge of mortal danger, are
turning the tide of world war by their prowess and their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much
owed by so many to so few.”
I respectfully submit that
the Prime Minister’s eloquent words about the Royal Air Force in the Battle of
Britain apply equally to the men and women of the United States armed forces
today, in the Global War on Terrorism. Active
duty, Reserve, and National Guard personnel total less than ¾ of 1% of our
nation’s population. Were it not for the
sacrifices of these few (including the 34,447 Virginians on active duty), none
of us would have the opportunity to vote in free elections. Service members deserve above all others to
exercise the right to vote in primary as well as general elections.
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