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MONDAY, JANUARY 9, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Forbidding crossover votes right in theory, full of peril

The Alabama Republican Party is poised to take a principled stand on an issue — the same stand that got the Democrats into big political trouble in 1986.

The GOP steering committee is recommending that the party ban people who vote in the Democratic primary June 6 from voting in the Republican runoff June 27. That's called crossover voting. The 350-member State Republican Executive Committee will consider the recommendation when it meets Saturday in Mobile.

"We want to make it all about being on the Republican team," said Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, party chairwoman.

Fair enough. The purpose of primaries is for parties to nominate their candidates. It's reasonable for a party to require that those who take part in the nominating process be loyal to that party.

But the problem is that a lot of Alabama voters don't look at it that way — perhaps as a legacy of the one-party system that existed for decades, in which the Democratic Party was the only one that mattered and the Democratic primaries were de facto general elections.

In 1986, thousands of voters violated the Democratic Party's anti-crossover rules by first voting in the Republican primary and then voting in the Democratic runoff for governor. Charlie Graddick got more votes in that race, but the party and the courts determined that more legal votes went to Bill Baxley.

The Democratic nomination was of little value to Mr. Baxley, though, because outraged voters suddenly discovered that the general election gave them the final say. They elected Republican Guy Hunt in November.

So the Republicans are on sound philosophical ground if they ban crossover voting in their runoff.

But there's no mechanism to prevent Democrats from showing up on runoff day and crossing over anyway. The Republicans' only remedy is to try to disqualify the crossover votes after the fact. And you see where that got the Democrats.

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