I’ve been asked a lot about this while walking door-to-door, and many voters are a bit confused by Ohio’s closed primary system. To vote in the presidential primary on Tuesday, you have to declare a party and ask for a party ballot. Here is something I found on the League of Women’s Voters site as a PDF:
An area poll worker (and League member) tells the true story of an encounter with a voter during a past primary election. As the voter approached the precinct sign- in table the worker asked for the voters name and address, in order to verify it in the polling book. The worker then asked the voter for her party affiliation and was met with the reply, “None of your d— business!”
Obviously the offended individual was not aware of the peculiarities of primary elections and the role they play in our democratic process. Ohio has a direct, closed primary election process, which means that candidate voting is limited to those citizens who have declared their party affiliation. Non affiliated voters may choose to become officially affiliated with a particular party by requesting that party’s ballot at a primary election. When a voter declares a party preference at a primary election in Ohio, they are then considered members of that political party.
This is where the confusion appears to begin in the minds of some voters.
Primary elections are held to narrow the field of candidates for the general election in the fall. In Ohio, the primary is frequently used to select party officials and “nominate” candidates who will run for office in the fall general election. When you register to vote for a specific party in a primary, your vote helps that party choose the strongest candidate to run against candidates from other political parties in the general election. Party affiliation is in no way binding in the general election in the fall when a voter may privately choose whichever candidate they consider to be the most qualified.
Voters who have participated in previous primary elections and wish to change their party affiliation may do so at the polling place on primary election day. To change party affiliation a voter has to simply state that he/she wishes to change party affiliation. The voter may be asked to sign a statement saying they wish to be affiliated with, and support the principles of, the party whose primary ballot they are requesting.
Issues may be voted on at a primary election as well. Issues are on a separate nonpartisan ballot and voters may vote on issues at a primary election without stating a party affiliation. Voters can vote on issues regardless of whether they vote on any candidates.
The Ohio Revised Code defines three types of political parties in Ohio. A major political party is the one whose nominee for governor received at least 20 percent of the vote in the last election.
An intermediate party is one whose candidate received between ten and 20 percent of the vote. A minor party is one whose candidate received at least five percent but less than ten percent of the vote or who has filed a petition signed by one percent of the voters at the last election for governor. Parties are no longer officially recognized by the state if that party fails to poll five percent of the total vote cast for governor.
So, if you want to vote for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, you have to ask for a Democratic ballot and declare yourself a Democrat until the next primary; when you can change parties if you want. I’m also on the same ballot- so if you want to support me, you need to ask for a Democratic Ballot.
If you want to vote for John McCain, Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul, you have to ask for a Republican ballot.
You can just vote on issues- like Sinclair Issue 39- on an issues only ballot and call your self an “independent” but what you are really doing is giving up your right to make a decision on who should be on the ballot in November. There is no advantage of voting as an “independent in Ohio” since in November, only the winners of the primary will appear on the ballot with a party label, and any “independent candidates” or third party candidates will appear without party affiliation on the ballot- and after having to work MUCH harder just to get on the ballot. The system is skewed to the major parties in a major way. Even our system of local “Boards of Elections” is made up of only Democrats and Republicans to keep the system fully biased to the two major parties.
The only thing that will change when you register with a party is the amount of junk political mail you will get come election time. You are free to vote in the Democratic primary on Tuesday and vote Republican in November or vice versa.
I hope this clears things up. Any questions?