West Virginia Republican officials to consider closing state's GOP primary to unaffiliated and independent or Democratic voters

 January 25, 2024

While some states have "closed" partisan primary elections, in which only registered voters of the respective party may participate, other states have "open" primary elections, in which independent and non-affiliated voters -- and sometimes even voters registered with the opposition party -- are allowed to cast a ballot.

West Virginia has open primary elections, but some Republican officials in the state aim to end that practice, potentially even this year, after observing the impact that non-GOP voters just had in New Hampshire's open Republican primary election last week, Breitbart reported.

However, it is a hotly contested debate on whether the state's GOP primary election should be open or closed to non-party members, with top officials staking out positions on both sides of the matter and plenty of legitimate pros and cons that would come into play either way.

Unaffiliated, independent, and Democratic voters helped boost Haley in New Hampshire GOP primary

According to a Fox News voter analysis following New Hampshire's open Republican primary, in which former President Donald Trump defeated former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley by more than 10 points, it became clear that the Granite State's open primary benefited Haley much more so than Trump.

Nearly half of the state's voters are unaffiliated with either major party. Nearly half of those unaffiliated voters align themselves as independents or Democrats. The bloc of unaffiliated voters as a whole broke overwhelmingly in favor of Haley over Trump in last week's election.

One particularly key finding from the analysis of New Hampshire GOP primary voters was that just over half of voters who backed Haley, about 52%, had voted for President Joe Biden in the 2020 general election, while only around one-third of Haley's backers had voted for Trump in the last presidential election.

Meeting this weekend to discuss closed primary proposal

To be sure, some West Virginia Republicans were already considering closing their partisan primary elections to non-registered voters before the New Hampshire election, but the idea has received more impetus from some and helped clarify the positions of others after seeing the impact such voters had in that primary contest.

West Virginia's MetroNews reported last week that state GOP officials are set to hold a previously delayed meeting this weekend in which the topic of closing the Republican primary to unaffiliated voters, potentially including this year's primary in May, will be on the agenda.

Yet, while the idea certainly has its proponents, it also has many detractors -- particularly among moderates who rely on cross-over votes from independents and Democrats to prevail over more conservative opponents -- who raise valid points about the GOP needing to be inviting and welcoming to all or, at least in terms of this year, that it is simply too late to make changes to the primary process that could be confusing for some voters.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice is among those who are opposed to the idea, both because of how close the state's May primary is on the calendar as well as because it could hurt Trump with independent voters who support him but not the GOP more broadly.

"Pros and cons on both sides"

According to West Virginia's News and Sentinel, one prominent Republican official who previously opposed the idea of closed primaries but has now come around to support it is State Sen. Erik Tarr, chair of the state Senate Finance Committee and member of the state's Republican Executive Committee, who told the outlet last week, "I can see the pros and cons on both sides, but I’m now on the side of that we should close primaries."

"Traditionally what has happened in Republican elections is that about two-thirds of the non-parties would vote in our primaries and about one-third would vote in the Democrat side of it," Tarr explained. "But what we’ve seen in a couple elections in the past is that ability to move that third that normally votes in the Democrat primary over a Republican primary has cost us seats at the local level and state races."

Another executive committee member, State Del. Marty Geartheart, leans toward keeping the primary open and said, "I have mixed feelings on this particular type of circumstance."

"I recognize when we open the primary up, we do put ourselves in the position of having positions that are maybe adverse to the Republican positions in the primary," he added. "The reality is, though, that by having the primary open, we are inviting those who are not registered to the Republican Party."

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