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State Sen. Chris Elliott expects legislature to consider party registration, closed primaries

The possibility of Alabama elections moving toward a closed primary system continues to be a topic of debate among lawmakers and party officials.

Sparking the discussion was the perceived involvement of Democratic voters in choosing the Republican Party’s nominees during this past election cycle, most notably in the Senate District 27 GOP primary contest.

Speculation that Democrats were attempting to sway the GOP’s election outcomes intensified when Auburn University creative writing professor Anton DiSclafani, a self-described “left-leaning Democrat,” penned a New York Times op-ed admitting to casting a Republican ballot to oppose the candidacy of incumbent State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

Whatley, a three-term senator and chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, lost his reelection bid to Auburn City Councilman Jay Hovey by a single vote.

Alabama Republican Party (ALGOP) chairman John Wahl has repeatedly expressed his desire for the state to pass electoral reform to close party primaries to voters of the opposite political affiliation.

During this past Friday’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) provided his analysis of the issue and indicated that the legislature could consider enacting such a reform to the state’s voting system.

“[I]t’s something that’s been discussed before, ironically, legislation that was sponsored by my colleague Senator Tom Whatley previously,” Elliott told host Todd Stacy. “So you have to look at some fundamental questions, I think, to arrive at a conclusion. One — a party primary is a party function, you’re picking the party’s nominee, and whether or not that’s a party function. And I think the answer to both of those is yes. And then whether or not you want to allow members of another party to influence the decision of who the party’s nominee is. I think when you talk to most Republicans, the answer to that would be no.”

He added, “I think what you’ve seen in a number of races this year, and specifically in the Senate race in East Alabama, you saw probably the best documented case of organized Democrats voting against a Republican incumbent for the purposes of swaying the outcome of the primary. And not only documenting the plans to do so, but then documenting that they had done so on social media and The New York Times.”

Elliott asserted that Democratic activists played a vital role in determining the outcome of the GOP primary election. According to the South Alabama lawmaker, ALGOP must examine if an open primary system is in the party’s best interests.

“[A]nd I think that the Republican Party, and as a member of the steering committee, we’ve got to look at whether or not that type of action — that clear involvement of the other party’s activists playing and affecting the outcome of a party function — is something we’re going to continue to allow,” continued the senator.

Elliott went on to acknowledge that some voters could desire not to affiliate with either major political party. A compromise to this, Elliott suggested, would be to allow independent voters to partake in party primary elections while barring participation of those registered to the opposite political party.

Dylan Smith is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL

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