Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

West Virginia Republican Party considers major rule change for Primary Election voters

The West Virginia Republican Party Executive Committee meets tomorrow in Charleston, where it will consider a controversial proposal to restrict the Primary Elections, including the one in May, to only registered Republican voters.

The proposal emerged from a recent meeting of the party’s Resolutions Committee. That group voted four to three to bring the resolution before the full Executive Committee.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties opened their Primaries to Independent, or non-affiliated, voters years ago as a way to broaden their appeal. As a result, the number of individuals who belong to neither party has surged from a handful to 287,000, which is 25% of all registered voters.

Supporters of closing the GOP Primary argue that only Republicans should get to vote in the Primary Election, and that argument has merit. Why should voters who are not affiliated with the party, or even necessarily share the party views, have a voice in who is nominated?

There is also a belief circulating among party leaders that a couple of the most conservative candidates are pushing the change because they are concerned that more moderate Independent voters will hurt their chances.

State Republican Party Chair Elgin McArdle told me she is not opposed to closing off the Primary again, but the timing is wrong with the Primary Election so close.

“It would require that the information be disseminated. It would require education to the individuals who are unaffiliated, giving them reasons why they should be converted to Republican,” McArdle said. “There should be debate. There should be discussion, and then make a decision.”

There could also be a legal problem with the resolution. Candidates have signed up to run in the Primary under a certain set of rules. It would be legally questionable to change the rules midstream.

Opponents of the immediate change have a plan to sidetrack the measure. One of the members of the Resolution Committee that voted against the change is expected to propose an amendment at tomorrow’s meeting that would delay the implementation until the 2026 election. The state Executive Committee members will then vote.

It is up to the political parties to decide how to run their nominating process. The current dominance of the GOP means it may be in a position to keep out all but registered Republicans. However, it makes no sense to change now and likely disenfranchise thousands of Independent voters who have been loyally voting Republican in Primary Elections for years.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.