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Inside the race for 57th

By Staff | Apr 30, 2010

Voter records on file with the Jefferson County Clerk show that two hopeful candidates in the race for Jefferson County’s 57th District seat in the state House of Delegates have switched political affiliations within the last three years. One candidate was too young to even register to vote as recently as 2007. The only candidate to remain with the same party over the last 10 years is the Democratic incumbent, who has held the seat since 1992.

Lori Rea, running in the Democratic primary against incumbent Delegate John Doyle, has been a registered Democrat for about nine months. According to records, in 2002 Rea registered as a Republican, having previously been a non-affiliated voter when she first moved to Jefferson County from Maryland in 2000. Her registration information changed again last July, when she switched affiliations from Republican to Democrat.

Republican Elliot Simon has been a registered Republican about 30 months, having been a registered Democrat until September 2007, after moving to Jefferson County in January 2002.

Simon’s opponent, Donald Jones, an aspiring young conservative politician and Shepherd University freshman, has been a Republican ever since the 19-year-old politico registered to vote in Jackson County in December of 2007.

Delegate Doyle says he has been a registered Democrat since at least 1964, when he voted for Lyndon Johnson as a college student at Shepherd. Naturally, Doyle has run under the banner of the Democratic party since 1982, when he was elected to a single term in the state Legislature, and in every election since his return to the statehouse in 1992. Voter records at the Jefferson County Clerk’s office only go back to 1996, but they show that in that period Doyle has remained registered to the Democratic Party.

Rea says she had been a Democrat living in Maryland before she moved to Jefferson County. However, she says the Clinton years soured her on the Democratic party and she switched to independent. In 2002, says Rea, a friend of hers ran for office on the Republican ticket and encouraged her to register as a Republican, which she did.

Six years later, as the 2008 presidential election neared, Rea came back to the Democratic party after becoming enthralled by the candidacy of Barack Obama. She unsuccessfully attempted to switch affiliations to vote for Obama in the 2008 West Virginia primary, reporting that a filing error at the courthouse meant that her registration was not officially changed until July 2009. A month later she launched her campaign, registering the domain name Reafordelegate.com in August 2009. Rea declined to indicate how she voted in national elections during her stint as a registered Republican, citing privacy reasons.

On her various political affiliations over the years, Rea sums it up as an expression of the freedom to choose your own voice in America’s open political system. “I’m thrilled to live in a country where a voter can be inspired by a charismatic leader and that we’re not intractable [in our affiliations].”

Simon, a registered Democrat until 2007, reports that he has been a fiscal conservative since the early 1980’s. “My actual change in philosophy happened quite a bit before 2007,” says Simon.

Why did Simon wait so long to change affiliations upon moving to West Virginia? According to Simon, he finally made the switch in 2007 so that he could vote in the upcoming Republican primary in advance of the 2008 general election.

So, what’s in a name, Democrat or Republican? Doyle, who calls himself a “liberal Democrat,” says that the two party labels can be useful descriptors before he adds a note of caution.

“I do think those labels can be misleading if voters rely on them entirely,” says Doyle. “You still need to find out what the candidate, individually, stands for.”

Rea agrees, saying that, in local and national elections, she “always votes the person, not the party. My vote is cast for the person who I believe is most capable of leading us where we need to be.”

Doyle says that voting is critical to our system of government and encourages everyone to vote. “We have a system of government which relies, for its success, on the presumption that citizens will participate,” says Doyle. “Someone who doesn’t vote weakens the republic just a tiny bit.”

Since 2000, there have been 15 non-municipal elections held in Jefferson County, split evenly between five primary elections, five general elections and five special elections, according to records compiled by Wendy Evangelisti in the County Clerk’s office of Voter Registration and Elections. Doyle is the only 57th District candidate to have voted in all of them.

Rea also says that voting is very important for her. “My vote is my voice.”

Since the year 2000, Rea has voted in five elections – four general elections (missing the 2006 mid-term general election) and last December’s table games referendum. Rea did not cast a ballot in the November 2009 zoning referendum. According to records, Rea also has not voted in a primary election since moving to Jefferson County in the year 2000. Rea, the only 57th District candidate to have lived within the borders of a municipality since the year 2000, did additionally vote in two of Shepherdstown’s municipal elections in 2000 and 2002 before moving outside town borders.

In an e-mail to the Chronicle, Rea writes that “when I was a younger voter, in Maryland, I invested emotionally in candidates early on, [in the primary] only to have them lose that first race.” Rea says that she discovered that she had a difficult time aligning herself with the remaining candidates because they were not her candidates.

“I felt disenfranchised from the remainder of the election. In reaction to that, I adopted a practice of avoiding that mistake by allowing the other voters to choose the two opponents and then investing in the one I was most aligned with Hence, my general non-participation in primary races,” writes Rea.

Doyle has a different view. For him, the primaries serve an essential function in our two party-system and require the same amount of attention as general elections. “The primary is not just the semifinal for the tournament,” says Doyle. “The choice before the voters in a primary is what candidates has earned the right to carry the standard of our party into the November election.”

Republican Elliot Simon has only voted in five elections since moving to Jefferson County in 2002, split between three general elections in 2002, 2004 and 2008, and last years separate referendums on zoning and table games. Simon declined to identify the candidate he supported for President in 2008, saying only that he did not vote for either major candidate.

Smith’s challenger, Donny Jones, only 19 years old, has voted in the 2008 primary and general elections, but did not vote in either the zoning or table games referendums. He says he voted for the libertarian leaning Representative Ron Paul, R-Texas, in the primary election while supporting Senator John McLain in the general election.