Alabama Republican Party to consider resolution calling for closed primaries

Voters arrive to vote at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts polling Place in Montgomery, Ala., on primary Election Day, Tuesday May 24, 2022.

The governing body of the Alabama Republican Party is expected to consider a resolution Saturday calling for the Legislature to require voters to register with a party before they vote in that party's primary.

The move, coming after a contentious primary season that saw several challenges to the results, would not bind the Republican-controlled House and Senate. But if approved, it would signal support from the party's activist base for doing so.

"This election cycle has really highlighted this issue," Wahl said in a phone interview on Monday. "Our candidates, our Republican voters, as well as members of the Republican Party were concerned with the Democratic crossover we saw this cycle."

More: Two months after GOP primary controversies, no clear path forward

Crossover voting — when supporters of one party cast votes in the other party's primary — has long been a complaint of whoever happens to be the dominant party in the state. But the extent of crossover voting is difficult to quantify in Alabama, which does not require voters to declare their party affiliation when they register.

Alabama is one of 15 states with "open primaries." Voters can cast a ballot in the primary they choose. A person who casts a ballot in one primary cannot vote in any runoff held by the other party.

The system reflects decades of one-party rule in Alabama, when the Democratic primary was more important than the general election. Since 2010, Republicans have won supermajorities in the state Legislature and taken control of every statewide elected office, giving the GOP primary a similar decisiveness.

In May's Republican primary for Senate District 27, centered around Auburn, Auburn City Councilman Jay Hovey defeated incumbent state Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, by a single vote out of nearly 17,000 ballots cast. Whatley accused Hovey of benefitting from crossover voting from Democrats in Lee County, which has become less reliably Republican in recent years and where the Democratic nominee for the Senate, Sherri Reese, did not face any challengers.

Hovey, who ran as a conservative Republican, picked up 63% of the vote in Lee County, where turnout was lower-than-average on May 24. Whatley dominated in parts of the district in more-rural Russell and Tallapoosa counties.

From June: Republican primary results contested in five Alabama legislative races

Closing primaries would do little to address ballot confusion that led to challenges in Republican legislative primary results in Etowah County and northern Alabama. In Etowah County, voter rolls in two districts were not updated after redistricting, leading some voters to get the wrong ballots. Similar concerns came up in Republican primaries in House Districts 1 and 2 in northwest Alabama. The Alabama Republican Party has upheld the results of those elections.

Wahl said the party was "in communication" with election officials looking to address those issues.

Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or Updated at 1:37 p.m. with comments from Alabama Republican Party chair John Wahl. 

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama Republican Party to consider resolution for closed primaries