The power of the ballot box
Spring 2014 may go down in history as the time of The Great Switch in Rowan County — when scores or even hundreds of local voters switched their affiliation from Democrat to unaffiliated so they could vote in the Republican primary.
It’s just one more sign that the future of the county is much more important to voters than their party label.
The local focus has been on the race for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Republicans run so strong here that in many years the commissioners’ race virtually ends with the primary. People concerned that the current board is shooting the county in the foot are not willing to wait until November to let that play out again, so they’re urging as many people as possible to vote in the Republican primary, even if they have to switch party affiliation to do it. Some advocate the switch quietly. Others don red berets and call themselves La Resistance.
North Carolina has a partially open primary system that allows unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary of their choice. The fact that some people are exploiting the openness to influence the Republican primary has prompted talk of having the General Assembly amend the law to exclude unaffiliated voters again. Lawmakers advocating that route risk alienating a substantial and fast-growing block of voters. As of April 1, about 26 percent of voters in Rowan and in the state were unaffiliated. The registration period for this primary ended Friday; it will be interesting to see if that percentage grew.
Republicans hoping to blunt challenges to their power by changing the law may be disappointed. No law can fix what ails the Republican Party, increasingly torn between traditional conservatives and the more militant Tea Party element. The rift has disrupted the county GOP in Rowan and Cabarrus. The actions of commissioners in both counties have upset voters so much that even a closed primary would not stop the revolt. People would change their affiliation to Republican if that’s what it took to keep the county from moving backwards.
Which brings up the issue of state politics. Just as Democrats did for decades, newly powerful Republicans redrew legislative districts to give themselves an overwhelming advantage. In the 2012 elections, Democrats cast the majority of ballots in the state but wound up with a largely Republican congressional delegation and a GOP-controlled legislature with a sizable Tea Party contingent. Those state lawmakers face little competition this year, but it will take more than gerrymandered districts and voter I.D. to quell growing discontent with the imbalance of power.
Corruption is usually associated with financial greed, but elected officials can also be led astray by another kind of corruption — the greed for power and the illusion of complete control. They will answer for that at the ballot box. If voters have to change affiliation to make themselves heard, so be it.