(Photo credit: Megan Zendek/Fourth Estate)
Students can vote in the upcoming presidential primary on March 1.
For some students, like freshman Andrew Nicholson, this is the first presidential election in which they will be able to vote.
“I feel empowered to be able to vote in the primary. While I don’t love only having two choices in the upcoming election, I feel like my vote matters in the primary … You have more choices as opposed to the general election where you pretty much choose the candidate you dislike least,” Nicholson said.
Along with 14 other states and an American territory, Virginia will hold its presidential primary on Super Tuesday. Students interested in voting must be registered by Feb. 8. In-person registration at the City of Fairfax Office of Elections closes at 5 p.m., and online registration on the Virginia Department of Elections website closes at 11:59 p.m.
Virginia is an open primary state; therefore, regardless of one’s party affiliation, or lack thereof, students may choose to vote on either the Republican or Democratic presidential primary ballot on Election Day.
This year, the Republican Party decided to implement a loyalty pledge, but it has now been rescinded and is no longer in effect. The pledge read, “My signature below indicates I am a Republican.”
Mark Rozell, acting dean and professor of the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs, explained that the main reason the GOP decided to implement a loyalty pledge is “to ensure that true die-hard Republicans vote in the Republican primary.”
Three Trump supporters sued the GOP over the loyalty pledge, comparing it to a literacy test. The case went before U.S. District Judge M. Hannah Lauck, who was appointed by Barack Obama. The court ruled in favor of the GOP, explaining that the plaintiff failed to provide enough evidence that the voters would suffer “irreparable harm,” according to the Washington Post.
“[The loyalty pledge was] largely going to benefit anyone but Trump,” Rozell said. “I’m sure a big part of the motivation was to give a boost to whoever the leading anti-Trump candidate happens to be.”
A couple of weeks after the court’s decision, the GOP unanimously voted to rescind the loyalty pledge and put in a request to rescind it with the Virginia Board of Elections. The Virginia Board of Elections formally accepted the request on Feb. 4.
According to Rozell, the GOP’s decision to rescind the loyalty pledge is mainly due to the negative publicity surrounding the issue.
“The party’s having enough trouble as it is expanding its support base, and the negative publicity surrounding the whole issue just wasn’t worth it in the end. It was showcasing in the public mind, yet again, that the Republican Party is a pretty narrow place,” Rozell said. “[The GOP was] in danger of alienating more people than helping their cause.”
This is not the first time the GOP has considered a loyalty pledge. According to the Virginian-Piolt, in the 2012 presidential primary, the GOP considered implementing a loyalty pledge but decided against it after opposition from the then Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. This loyalty pledge differed slightly from the 2016 one in that it required the voter to promise to vote for the GOP nominee in the general election.
The last time the GOP enforced a similar loyalty pledge was in the 2000 presidential primary where the nomination was primarily between George W. Bush and John McCain.
“Virginia was the big battleground state that really turned the race to Bush … [The loyalty pledge] was a strategic calculation to give Bush ultimately some advantage,” Rozell said. “The party leadership has favored this mechanism as a way to preference more strongly conservative Republican candidates.”
Rozell added that it confused many voters into thinking that they were obligated to vote Republican in the general election, when in reality the loyalty pledge is non-binding. Interviews at the time showed that some voters opted out of voting as a result, according to Rozell.
Prior to March 1, students with a valid reason may complete an absentee ballot. Mason students can complete an in-person absentee ballot at Sisson House in Fairfax until Feb 26 or apply for a mailed absentee ballot by Feb 23, which must be returned by March 1. On-campus students who have registered with their HUB mailroom address can vote at Merten Hall on March 1. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and students must bring their student IDs.