Photo Credit: GPA Photo Archive / Flickr
The West Virginia Republican Executive committee voted Saturday to switch to closed primary elections starting in 2026. The decision comes after party officials said independent voters should join a party to vote and will cast a ballot for whoever waves something shiny in front of them.
“The more you allow independents and other non-affiliated voters to float around they will vote for candidates that have the shiniest piece of mail or best TV ad,” said Republican Delegate Jim Butler, who supported the proposal to move to closed primaries.
The party's executive committee did not move to close primaries in the 2024 election cycle. However, starting in the 2026 midterms, voters will have to register Republican in order to participate in taxpayer-funded and publicly administered primary elections.
The committee vote was 65-54.
West Virginia uses a semi-closed partisan primary system. State law gives the Republican and Democratic Parties complete autonomy to decide whether independent and unaffiliated voters can request a ballot for their primary elections.
Nearly 290,000 registered voters, accounting for more than a quarter of the state's registered voting population, are registered independent of a party. Many of these voters request a Republican primary ballot each election cycle as many elections in the state are safe for the GOP.
Party leaders, however, argue that the right to vote must be conditioned on joining a private political organization.
“I think we would welcome those people to become registered Republicans. There’s no reason that if they believe in our platform and they believe in what we stand for why they shouldn’t be Republicans,” said former Delegate John Overington.
There is no evidence to support the claim that the independent voters who pick the GOP ballot in the primaries stand firmly with the party's platform. However, Republicans do hold a supermajority in the state legislature, so the GOP primaries are the most critical elections in the state.
Overington'a argument was echoed by Butler who said, "there is excitement to bring people to our party."
There is no correlation between closed primaries and people flocking to the parties. In fact, New Jersey and Nevada both use closed primary elections, and their registered independent voting populations outnumber one or both major parties.
What is more likely to happen is historic lows in future primary turnout. But much like Democratic-controlled New Jersey, Republican leaders in West Virginia see the self-serving interests behind disenfranchising a large segment of the voting population that doesn't want to join a party -- or else they would.