The Virginia Public Access Project identified 10 primary elections over four years that may have had the most voters who cast ballots in the opposite party’s contests.
“Virginia’s open primary system creates the potential for candidates to make cross-party appeals or for members of one party to make mischief,” VPAP wrote in an email presenting the information.
Since Virginia doesn’t require voters to register with a political party, VPAP used voter information to find 128,113 currently registered voters who cast ballots in both Republican and Democratic primaries between June 2014 and June 2018. VPAP assigned voters to a party if they voted in a “majority of primaries for one party” and cross-voters were people who “voted once in a different party’s primary.”
The practice was more common in the 2015 primary season for General Assembly seats, according to VPAP’s analysis. Eight of the 10 primary races identified as having the most participation from members of the other party happened that year.
The other two races were congressional Republican primaries.
In the 2015 Democratic primary for House District 79, which includes parts of Portsmouth and Norfolk, VPAP calculated a 15.6 percent participation rate from Republican voters in the contest between now-Del. Steve Heretick and longtime lawmaker Johnny Joannou.
It was the highest participation rate of opposite-party voters in a primary VPAP identified between 2014 and 2018.
Joannou didn’t support Medicaid expansion when it came up under former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration. Heretick did support expansion and earned McAuliffe’s support in the primary.
The potential for voters casting ballots in opposite-party primaries is very real, especially in swing districts where a weak candidate could mean a win in the general election for the other party. Opposite parties may also consider one primary candidate an ally worth preserving in a district that’s unlikely to vote for a different party candidate.
In Tuesday’s primaries, there have already been accusations of cross-party voting in the heated race between Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, and Tina Freitas, wife of Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, with Freitas challenging Hanger for his stance on abortion and gun legislation.
That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard this primary cycle. We got enough to do. https://t.co/RtUo6lt0Bx
— susanswecker (@SusanRSwecker) June 11, 2019
Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker had this response: “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard this primary cycle. We got enough to do.”