‘Which ballot do you want?’

Published 8:30 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

 By Nate Pentecost 

The K-V Dispatch 

Which ballot do you want, Democrat or Republican? When you go to vote in the presidential primary in Lunenburg County, you’ll get asked that question. It’s not a trick or a scam. Several people have messaged The Dispatch, asking if it’s legal. As for why it’s set up this way, you can thank the Code of Virginia. And the new Lunenburg County registrar just wants people to understand what’s being asked and why, when they go to cast a ballot. 

“We want to educate voters and make sure voters know all the opportunities that are available to them,” Lunenburg Registrar Alissa Baldwin said. 

In Lunenburg County, the presidential primary marks the second election Baldwin has conducted since her recent appointment. She took over the office of the Lunenburg County General Registrar in December of last year and oversaw the Virginia Special Election for the District 9 State Senate seat earlier this month to begin her four-year term.

But now, she just wants to make sure there’s no confusion for voters, as the presidential primary is a bit different than the special Senate election we just had. You see, Virginia holds an “open” presidential primary. Any registered voter can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary. That’s why you’re asked which ballot when going to vote. And to be clear, no, you can’t vote in both primaries. When you go to vote, you have to choose either the Republican primary or Democratic one. Voters cannot be challenged by election officials about which primary they opt to vote in.

“We are trying to make sure voters are prepared for that question because that’s something they don’t normally get asked,” Baldwin said. “Once the ballot is issued, their vote and their reasons are their own.”

Proponents of open primary elections maintain it increases voter engagement and gives voters the opportunity to cast their ballot based on the candidate rather than the political party. Opponents of this type of primary contend it allows voters to manipulate election results by voting in the opposing party’s primary.

BALDWIN SEES THE BENEFIT 

Baldwin acknowledges the potential negatives of the open primary but sees benefit in the format for the Virginia electorate.

“The reality is most people are independent voters in Virginia, even when given the opportunity to affiliate with a political party,” Baldwin said. “Closed primaries could cut out some of the voters and deny them the opportunity to participate in our processes and that’s unfortunate.

And yes, even the ballot might look a little weird, as there are quite a few names still on it. 

Six candidates will appear on the Republican primary ballot: Chris Christie, Ryan L. Binkley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Donald J. Trump, Ron D. DeSantis, and Nikki R. Haley. Three candidates will appear on the Democratic primary ballot: Joe Biden, Marianne Williamson and Dean Benson Phillips. While all but Haley and Trump have pulled out of the Republican primary, these ballots were made before that happened, so you’ll still see those other names included. 

And in-person early voting has already started here in Lunenburg. It began on Friday, Jan. 19 and will continue through Saturday, March 2. To vote early in-person, registered voters should go to the general registrar’s office at 160 Courthouse Square in Lunenburg, present their ID, and cast their ballot. 

And if you want to wait, the actual Election Day will be on Tuesday, March 5. On what is often called “Super Tuesday”, Virginians’ ballots will be cast alongside millions of other Americans on the day the largest number of U.S. states hold primary elections and caucuses. As 16 states turn out to vote, the results of Super Tuesday could be an indicator of which presidential candidate will represent the Republican and Democratic parties in the general election this November.

MORE ABOUT THE NEW REGISTRAR 

A native of Virginia, Baldwin is an alumnus and former faculty of Longwood University. She was most recently a civics and economics teacher with Cumberland County Public Schools. She has also worked as a paralegal. Now with one special election under her belt, Baldwin said she’s already at work preparing for the primary. 

“It’s been wonderful. Even as new people came in, we had to hit the ground running because of the special election,” Baldwin said. “Now we’re underway preparing for the upcoming presidential election.”

Baldwin has also been on the candidate side of an election before. She ran in the Republican primary to represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate in 2020. She finished second to Daniel Gade, the current Commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services for Virginia.

In her current post as General Registrar Baldwin hopes to increase voter turnout. She plans to place an emphasis on making sure the Lunenburg County electorate is familiar with the resources offered for the community to be active in the political process.

The deadline to register to vote or update an existing registration for the presidential primary in Virginia is Monday, Feb. 12. Same day registration is available but will be a provisional vote counted after the election if accepted by the Electoral Board.

Polls for the presidential primary will be open in Lunenburg County from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. on March, 5. Information about polling locations can be found at the Lunenburg County General Registrar’s webpage: https://lunenburgva.gov/government/registrar.php