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January 25th, 2012 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Primary Education

Is “Mischief Voting” Illegal?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall

Can I change my party preference to Republican just so I can vote in the primary, and change back before the general election? Is it legal? I can’t stand to see Republicans having all the fun. 

—Martha F.


Republicans are having a lot of things right now—emergency meetings, panic attacks, that third martini—but I’m not sure “fun” is particularly high on the list.

Still, one man’s train wreck is another man’s sweet schadenfreude, so I can understand your temptation.

What you’re contemplating is called “strategic crossover voting” or “mischief voting,” depending on the speaker’s mood. If your state has open primaries, where anyone can vote in whichever party’s primary they choose, it’s easy to do.

Oregon, of course, has closed primaries, so Democrats who want to cross over will need to re-register as Republicans. Even so, a 1998 study found that strategic crossovers accounted for around 3 percent of the vote in closed-primary states.

Logistically, there’s nothing to it. You can register for Oregon’s May 15 primary as late as April 24—and change back at your leisure, since your party affiliation won’t prevent your voting for whomever you like in the general election.

Whether it’s legal in other places is another matter. Political junkies may recall that talk-radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh got into a small amount of hot water in 2008 for encouraging Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton in Ohio’s Democratic primary. This would prolong Clinton’s bruising battle with Barack Obama, Limbaugh thought, making Obama easy pickings for the GOP in November. 

Since Ohio requires voters to swear allegiance to their party on penalty of fraud, what Limbaugh and his minions did was probably illegal, but no charges were ever filed.

Either way, the story illustrates a second problem with “strategic” voting: It can backfire. Just ask President McCain.

 
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