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Sunday, October 03, 2004

Closed Primaries

When Republicans start screaming “voter fraud,” my ears perk up. It’s kinda like an arsonist yelling “fire”. Believe it or not, it happens.

Take local GOP Chair Travis Horn (please). When not busy boxing local Democrats outside the Republican HQ, Horn is convulsing over the last-minute write-in candidacy by Steve Nichtberger, for the Alachua County Commission seat occupied by Democrat Mike Byerly.

Nichtberger’s candidacy, by its nature unassociated with a political party, closed the Aug. 31 primary to Democrats only. Byerly defeated his Democratic opponent, Ward Scott, and faces only Nichtberger in the general election.

Scott, a self-described conservative Democrat, joins Horn in making rather serious-sounding allegations of voter fraud. They claim that Nichtberger and Byerly conspired to prevent non-Democrat voters from voting in the Aug. 31 primary.

The real fraud is the allegation itself. The write-in candidacy is completely legal under state law, which allows anyone to run as a write-in candidate without having to collect the requisite petition signatures or pay the fee -- the hitch is that the candidate’s name does not appear on the ballot.

It is true that without Nichtberger’s write-in candidacy, all voters would have been eligible to vote in the primary, thanks to a relatively new part of the state constitution that says: “If all candidates for an office have the same party affiliation and the winner will have no opposition in the general election, all qualified electors, regardless of party affiliation, may vote in the primary elections for that office.”

Scott has whined to the media that being more conservative than Byerly (true), he would have gotten more votes had Republicans been able to vote in the primary, and therefore could have won. Horn labeled Nichtberger's candidacy "voter fraud".

Talk about elitism. Scott and Horn are equating a citizen’s legal right to run a low-budget write-in campaign with, say, an armed gang preventing voters from entering a polling place. It is as if they believe they have a right to control the voting process by deciding who can run.

We should be encouraging more people to become candidates, because it gives us more choices and can enlarge the debate to other issues than those the elites stick to. It might convince more people to vote.

If Scott wanted Republicans and Democrats to be able to vote for him, he should have run as a Republican and faced Byerly in the Nov. 2 general election. Then he could have campaigned as a conservative Republican, which makes more sense anyway. I think it is safe to say that someone calls himself a “conservative democrat” when he wants to retain the ability to take whichever view is the most politically expedient at the time.

Anyhow, there’s a reason he didn’t run as a Republican -- Alachua County has far more registered Democrats than Republicans, and many people vote along party lines. Conservative candidates usually don’t fare well in county elections when they run as Republicans, so they run as Democrats in hopes of attracting both GOP voters and Democrat voters unaware of their right-wing agenda.

In this case, that strategy failed.

And even if it is true that the Democrats had Nichtberger run just to close the primary to only Dems (I’m not saying it is true, just conceding the claim for argument’s sake), it was just a strategy. A legal, successful strategy.

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