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The Republican Party of Virginia has withdrawn its loyalty oath as a presidential primary requirement, a move that could encourage more voters to cast their ballots.
In Virginia, residents are not required to declare a party preference when registering to vote. However, until Saturday the RPV asked individuals voting in the March 1 Republican presidential primary to sign and print their name under a statement that read “My signature below indicates that I am a Republican.”
According to the statement form, “any voter refusing to sign the statement form cannot vote in this Republican Party nominating process.”
The Virginia State Code permits political parties to determine requirements for individuals who are voting in their primary elections. The oath applied to absentee and election day-voters alike.
No explanation was provided to Virginia general registrars as to why the RPV dropped the requirement, according to an email sent to general registrars from Edgardo Cortés, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections.
In the email, which was sent Monday morning, Cortés wrote the request to rescind the requirement was “unprecedented.”
Dianna Moorman, James City County’s general registrar and director of elections, said she is waiting for guidance from the Department of Elections but intends to count all absentee ballots in the Republican presidential primary, whether voters signed the oath or not.
“If the voter did not enclose it in their ballot, we will not count it against them,” Moorman said. “Their ballot will be counted if everything else is completed properly.”
Moorman said she “fully expects” voter turnout to increase now that the oath has been withdrawn. She said she is “completely shocked” by the turnout so far, comparing it to a regular primary election, rather than a typical presidential primary election.
“In the past, the presidential primaries have been comparable to the general election,” Moorman said of the voter turnout. “That just is not the case to date for this presidential primary.”
She attributes the low numbers to voters’ reluctance to sign the oath as well as a preference to wait for primary results from other states before casting a ballot.
Walt Latham, York County General Registrar, said he does not know how current turnout compares to other primaries, but said the number of Republican candidates could contribute to the number of ballots received so far.
“I think voters are being strategic about voting, so they don’t want to vote and the choices they have on March 1 are totally different,” Latham said.
Moorman said she hopes more absentee ballots start to come in, noting there have been days this election season that no ballots have come in to the registrar’s office at all, an “uncommon” occurrence in James City County.
“I am glad they made the decision to allow anyone to vote in the primary,” Moorman said. “I think it will be great for the voters as well those who are working the polls.”
How to Vote
Virginians have until Feb. 8 to register to vote or update voting information, such as address, if they wish to cast a ballot in the presidential primary. Registration can be completed online via the state’s citizen portal or mailed to their locality’s registrar’s office.
Residents can pick up an application in person at the following locations:
James City County
- Registrar’s Office, 101-E Mounts Bay Road, 757- 253-6868
- Human Services Center, 5249 Olde Towne Road
- Satellite Services Office, 3127 Forge Road
- Registrar’s Office, 224 Ballard St., 757- 890-3440
- Griffin-Yeates Center, 1490 Government Road
City of Williamsburg
- Registrar’s Office, 401 Lafayette St., 757-220-6157
- College of William & Mary, Office of Residence Life, Campus Center
Voter registration applications can also be obtained at local libraries, department of motor vehicles office and post offices.
Individuals who wish to vote absentee have until 5 p.m. Feb. 23 to apply. Applications to vote absentee can be submitted through the citizen portal or by mail, email or fax.
Absentee voting has begun. The deadline to apply to vote absentee in person is 5 p.m. Feb. 27. Individuals can vote absentee in person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at their locality’s registrar’s office.
Emergency absentee voting is available under limited circumstances. Residents who must vote absentee due to a work, medical or family emergency should contact their locality’s registrar’s office for details. The deadline to register for emergency absentee voting is at 2 p.m. Feb. 29.
Residents who must vote absentee in all elections due to an ongoing medical condition can apply for an annual absentee ballot. Qualified residents who are applying for the first time must submit their application with a doctor’s signature by Feb. 23. Residents renewing their application do not need a doctor’s signature but must apply by Feb. 23.