Closing the Primaries: What’s Good, What’s Not…An Assessment of This Year’s Bills (SC Statehouse)

By Lucy Twinkle

Several pieces of legislation are currently pending in the House Judiciary Committee relating to Closing the Primaries. On the surface, it would seem that closing our political primaries would enhance the safety and security of our elections. But would it? Let’s examine the bills: (If you don’t want to read through the details of the bills, go to the bottom of this blog post and read SUMMARY.)

A couple of terms you need to know:
Elector – someone who is eligible to vote in the state of South Carolina
Unaffiliated voters – SC electors who are not affiliated with any recognized “certified political party”

Certified political party – Although there are hundreds of political parties in the USA, only certain parties are “certified” to be able to have their candidate names on election ballots. South Carolina recognizes 10 political parties: the Alliance, Constitution, Democratic, Green, Independence, Labor, Libertarian, Republican, United Citizens, and Working Families parties.

A candidate may choose to have another label other than a certified party next to his/her name on the ballot. This is called a “political party designation.” South Carolina does not allow candidates to use political party designations. What that means is if a candidate is part of a newly-minted party, such as the “Constitutional Patriot Party” (made up) or the “US Beijing Party,” he or she would not be able to appear on a SC ballot. For example, it was just reported that Governor Kemp of Georgia is creating a “new GOP Party” called the “Cherokee County Republican Coalition” which would have to be “certified” if it were in the state of South Carolina according to this law in order for any of its members to appear on the ballot. Same thing if President Donald Trump tried to start his own party. Something to keep in mind.

The Bills: An Analysis

H. 3161:
IN GENERAL: A SC citizen would not be allowed to vote in any “partisan” primary except that person has to register to be affiliated with that party, UNLESS the certified political party decides to accept unaffiliated voters. (There is no direction as to how the political party would arrive at such a decision. It’s left up to the party. If the party deems that unaffiliated electors CAN vote in the party primary,
the party would have 60 – 180 days to notify the State Election Commission (SEC).) The SEC is charged with working with the counties to come up with a form and process for registering electors by party. Such form would be open to public inspection (except for social security numbers). When voting in the primary, all electors are required to sign an affidavit affirming membership in that party conducting the primary.

Electors who have not registered with a political party would be unable to vote in that primary as they would be considered “unaffiliated voters.” This has not occurred before in recent years. For this “Close our Primaries” effort to be successful, there needs to be a massive awareness campaign waged so that South Carolinians who want to vote know they have to sign up with a single political party. There is a risk that thousands of South Carolinians will become disenfranchised voters in the 2024 Presidential election, because they are uninformed about the changes. What you could see in 2024 is many South Carolinians wanting to vote for Donald Trump in the Republican primary, but being
unable to do so because they never registered with the Republican Party. Or vote for Robert Kennedy Jr. but can’t because they are not registered as a Democrat. (This bill tries to ameliorate this issue by allowing electors to register for a party at all primary elections before June 1, 2024, by having an elector submit an oath before an election official overseeing the election.)

Registering and being affiliated with the party: The state convention of a political party may add rules about qualifications for membership in the party, as well as eligibility for voting in the primary election. While it is understandable that the party would want to have a mechanism for vetting prospective electors, i.e., the Republicans don’t want closet Democrats signing up for the party and vice versa), we’ve also seen some recent party rules that have potentially disallowed whole groups of people from becoming affiliated with the party. This could adversely affect the American First movement, as well as others.

No provision for how the certified political parties would determine whether or not they would accept unaffiliated voters. Party State Convention? State Executive Committee?

Danger that incorrect records could lead to disenfranchised voters. We
know that the SEC has had many incorrect records relating to people’s voting records in past primaries. What makes us think that they will get an individual’s voting preference correct? If there is a mistake in the record, that elector could be prevented from voting in a primary.
There is no restriction on changing registered party status. That means, for example, I could register as a Democrat for the primary, but change my party affiliation to Republican for the general election.

H. 3472
This bill is almost identical to H. 3161 except for the following differences:

If an unaffiliated voter votes in a certified party primary, such voter
automatically becomes a member of that party for two years. This addresses the time limit question.

This bill also sets a time limit on when electors need to be made aware of this new requirement to register with a certified political party in order to vote in that party’s primary. Electors need to be notified before January 1, 2024.

H. 3685
This bill is also similar to the previous bills with some notable exceptions:
It is the state executive committee of a certified political party who
decides whether or not unaffiliated voters may vote in the primary election. Otherwise, in the previous bills, the state convention decides the qualifications for membership into the party and voting in the primary elections, which seems more democratic.

This bill addresses candidate party qualifications and states that a political party has the ability to require all persons wanting to appear on that party’s ballot to be registered as “affiliated” with that political party.
It also states that a party may not refuse to certify a candidate based on party affiliation who is registered as affiliated at the time of filing. This seems like a protection against party actions such as the time SCGOP censured and banned Greenville County GOP Chair Jeff Davis from attending SC State GOP meetings because while he was a “registered Republican,” the GOP State Executive Committee, led by State Party Chair Drew McKissick, declared him “unaffiliated” or not eligible to participate, based on some “charges.” Read the article and decide.
Finally, there is no time restriction for changing party registration.


In summary, it appears that closing the primaries in the state would be a step forward in our quest for safe and secure elections, by eliminating our election process of potential outside interference. We want to ensure all of our elections reflect the will of the people. In this case, the success of this effort will hinge on the following:

A massive information campaign to inform the electors about this change and to prevent them from being disenfranchised from voting through an “unaffiliated voter status” by default.

A time limit placed on how soon an elector can change parties after
registering with one certified party. Attempts to “game the system” should be thwarted, i.e., changing party affiliations often needs to be not
discouraged, but prohibited.

The SEC must be held accountable for keeping accurate voter files, with
respect to electors registering with certified political parties
Any decisions – whether it be to include unaffiliated voters in a certified party election or to put candidates on the partisan ballot – should be made by the people within the party, and not at the centralized executive level. We want to ensure that all SC electors who want to participate in primaries are able to do so and all candidates be given a fair opportunity to be listed on election ballots.

Thank you to all the SC legislators trying to improve our election system.