Va. governor, ACLU oppose GOP primary loyalty oath

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Gov. Bob McDonnell said Thursday that the Virginia Republican Party's governing body should rescind its decision to require GOP presidential primary voters to sign a loyalty oath.

Virginia does not register voters by party, so the March 6 primary is open to all voters. But the GOP's State Central Committee, concerned about possible mischief-making by Democrats, decided last month to require voters to sign an oath pledging to support the party's nominee for president in the November general election.

The State Board of Elections later approved forms to implement the loyalty pledge.

Some Republicans have complained about the oath, prompting state GOP chairman Pat Mullins to call another meeting of the committee for Jan. 21 to reconsider the decision.

"While I fully understand the reasoning that led to the establishment of this requirement, such an oath is unenforceable and I do not believe it is in the best interests of our Party, or the Commonwealth," the Republican governor said in a written statement distributed by his political action committee.

"The effect of the oath could be one of diminishing participation in the primary, at a time when our Party must be expanding its base and membership as we head in to the pivotal 2012 general elections this fall," he wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia also urged GOP leaders to rescind the loyalty oath and vowed to sue if they do not.

"Some voters who are bona fide Republicans may yet find it impossible to state, in advance, that they will agree to vote for a nominee other than the candidate they support," ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg wrote Thursday in a letter to the State Central Committee. "Voters who do not feel that they can make this promise in good faith will be deterred from exercising their right to vote in the Republican primary."

McDonnell said there are better ways to enable political parties to control their own nomination processes. He said he favors legislation to establish voluntary party registration, which "would eliminate the need for any oaths or pledges."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul are the only candidates vying in Virginia's primary.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum failed to submit the required number of signatures to get on the ballot.

They are asking a federal court to invalidate Virginia's petition requirement and order their names placed on the ballot.