Virginia’s Republican Party on Saturday scrapped plans to use a party loyalty pledge in the March 1 GOP presidential primary, sending elections officials scrambling because absentee voting was already underway. “We unanimously voted to rescind it,” John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said after a meeting of the State Central Committee. In September, the party decided to require voters to sign a “statement of intent” before taking part in the primary. That idea, which has been proposed several times in recent years, caused controversy in Virginia, one of about 14 states that hold “open primary” elections in which voters do not register by party. Supporters have said that the measure would cut down on Democrats who want to make mischief by voting in GOP primaries.
GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump drew national attention to the pledge by calling it a “suicidal mistake” that would turn away voters disenchanted with traditional party politics — the very newcomers who might be drawn to his unconventional presidential bid.
His supporters filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of three pastors who support Trump. Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled against them.
The State Central Committee described its about-face in terms unrelated to Trump, accusing Virginia’s Democratic governor and attorney general of meddling with the language that the GOP had proposed.