By: Lydia Warkentin
Roy Moore’s defeat of Senator Luther Strange in a special Republican primary runoff in Alabama dominated the news cycle this September. But flying under the radar is a new Alabama law (Act No. 2017-340), signed by Governor Kay Ivey last May, that prohibits “crossover” voting in party primaries and runoffs. The law states that voters, if required to return to the polls for a primary runoff, like the one on September 26, can vote only for the party they voted for in the primary. In other words, a voter cannot vote in the Democratic party’s primary and then vote in the Republican party’s runoff. Only those who voted in the Republican primary on August 15, or those that did not vote at all, were permitted to vote in the September 26 runoff. Supporters say the goal of the law is to prevent one party from having an improper effect on another party’s race.
This law effectively prevents voters who voted in the primary from switching their party preference or candidate of choice mid-election if that candidate happens to be in a different party. The law, put into action for the first time on September 26, was enforced as follows: as Alabama voters checked in at their polling places for the primary on August 15, the voter rolls were marked to show whether that individual asked for a Republican or Democratic ballot. That mark was then transferred to the voter rolls for September 26 Republican runoff. Only those who voted in the Republican primary, or no primary at all, were permitted to vote in the September 26 runoff.
Interestingly, in 1983, the Democratic party banned crossover voting in its primary runoff elections, and the Republican party followed suit, though not until 2016. Therefore, since 1983, anyone who voted in the Republican primary was not allowed to vote in the Democratic runoff; until 2016, those who voted in the Democratic primary but wished to vote in the Republican runoff would have been allowed to do so. The September 26 Republican runoff was the first election where the state law was in effect. The penalty for violating the state law is a Class C Felony. Alabama’s Secretary of State John H. Merrill reminded voters of the new law in a letter before the Republican runoff on September 26, in which he wrote: “Any person who votes or knowingly attempts to vote or assists another person in voting when they were not entitled to do so shall be guilty upon conviction of a Class C felony.”
As the Republican establishment itches to distance itself from Moore, one has to wonder what impact, if any, this new law had on Moore’s victory in September. In Alabama, a dark red state, is it possible this law incentivized Democrats not to vote in their own primaries in order to preserve their vote in the Republican runoff elections so as to prevent the win of a far-right candidate like Moore? If Democrats did scheme and attempt this in September, it seems there are not enough of them in the state to have made a difference. An alternative possibility is that Democrats wanted Moore to win so that the Democratic candidate could receive votes from the more moderate Republicans. There were no articles to indicate that either of the above scenarios occurred, but both provide something to think about.