The advisory referendum proposed by state GOP Chairman Drew McKissick would be presented to voters in this year's June primary elections. In a statement sent to reporters on Monday, McKissick said that partisan registration would allow parties to do a better job of engaging people in the political process.
"By not allowing that option, the government creates a barrier that inhibits political parties in connecting with voters in a day when there is already so much apathy about politics," McKissick said. "Political parties need to be able to do a better job of connecting with and engaging like-minded individuals in the political process, and partisan registration makes that easier."
South Carolina is one of 15 states that currently have open primaries, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That means voters don't register by party and can vote in whichever party primary they choose.
Nine states have closed primaries, meaning that voters must be registered with a particular party before being allowed to vote in a primary election, and independent voters aren't allowed to participate.
What's known as crossover voting has happened throughout South Carolina, where all statewide offices are held by Republicans. All but one member of the state's nine-member congressional delegation are Republicans, and they rarely face primary opposition.
According to Republican officials, the GOP State Executive Committee unanimously passed a resolution calling for a partisan voter registration option on voter registration forms. A pending House bill would amend registration laws to allow voters to voluntarily disclose party affiliation of "Democrat," ''Republican," ''Independent" or "other."
Under the proposed measure, the self-identification "may not be used to restrict or limit a voter's full discretion to participate in the primary election of his choosing."
South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson called the proposal "laughable" and "hypocrisy at its greatest," given what he sees as Republicans' efforts to make it harder for some to vote by requiring photo identification and implementing other restrictions.
"His government, the Republicans that control the House and the Senate, have done everything they can to make it harder for people to vote in this state," Robertson said.
In June, Democrats are asking their primary voters questions on offshore drilling, medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion.
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said partisan registration could have a real but not massive impact on the state's election results, particularly in primaries.
"The GOP certainly gets the votes of all those Republican-leaning independents in the general election, but people who identify as independent tend to turn out in much lower numbers in primaries," Huffmon said. "This means that the people currently voting on their nominees are already their most committed voters."
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