16,000 Republicans in Cuyahoga Crossed Over and Voted Democratic in Primary
By Amanda Garrett
A staggering 16,000-plus Republicans in Cuyahoga County switched parties when they voted in last week's primary.
That includes 931 in Rocky River, 1,027 in Westlake and 1,142 in Strongsville. More than a third of the Republicans in Solon and Bay Village switched. Pepper Pike had the most dramatic change: just under half its Republicans became Democrats. And some of those who changed - it's difficult to say how many - could be in trouble with the law.
At least one member of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections wants to investigate some Republicans who may have crossed party lines only to influence which Democrat would face presumed Republican nominee John McCain in November.
Those who crossed lines were supposed to sign a pledge card vowing allegiance to their new party.
In Cuyahoga County, dozens and dozens of Republicans scribbled addendums onto their pledges as new Democrats:
"For one day only."
"I don't believe in abortion."
A Plain Dealer review of thousands of records showed few of those who switched were challenged by poll workers.
Sandy McNair, a Democratic member of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, said Friday that the manipulation of the system was troublesome.
"It's something that concerns me, that I think needs to be looked at further," McNair said. "This is not a structural thing by the Republican Party. If it's a problem at all, it's on an individual level."
Lying on the pledge is a felony, punishable by six to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Election watchers said they don't know any cases that have been prosecuted in Ohio. And it's unlikely the Republican crossovers influenced the outcome since Clinton handily defeated Barack Obama, said Edward Foley, an election-law professor at Ohio State University.
But he said Ohioans need to learn the rules governing their voting - and poll workers need to enforce them.
In a nutshell, here's how it's supposed to work: Ohio voters are allowed to switch party affiliations on the day of a primary election but only if they sign a pledge vowing to support their new party - and mean it.
If a majority of poll workers at a precinct doubt a voter's sincerity, they can challenge the voter even if the voter signed the pledge.
In the days following the election, The Plain Dealer interviewed more than two dozen voters - most of them Republicans who crossed over to Democrats last week.
None - including five who acknowledged lying about supporting the Democrats - were challenged. And several said poll workers never asked them to sign a pledge but gave them a Democratic ticket.
A Movement Is Afoot...
Some Republicans refer to it as "the plot."
It started a few weeks ago when conservative radio powerhouse Rush Limbaugh suggested that his Republican following cross over during the primary to vote for Clinton. Clinton, Limbaugh argued, would be easier for McCain to beat in November than Obama.
Soon, local morning radio show host Bob Frantz echoed Limbaugh on WTAM AM/1100, and the buzz began to grow.
Cuyahoga County Republican Chairman Rob Frost tried to tamp down the temptation. He contacted Republican voters and appeared on the Frantz show urging Republicans "not to heed the siren call of Rush Limbaugh and others."
"Elections are not something you should be playing games with," Frost said last week during a telephone interview.
Yet temptation was strong.
North Ridgeville Republican Hazel Sferry said she was kicking herself all day Tuesday after voting for McCain.
Don't get her wrong. Sferry supports McCain.
But after she voted, she ran into her niece who told her about "the plot."
Her niece, Republican Sherry Newell, crossed over Tuesday after hearing Limbaugh. Newell said she voted for Obama because she thought McCain had a better chance against him.
Regardless, Sferry said she thought it was a great idea to mess with the other party if it helped McCain win.
"I don't mind being deceptive to politicians," she said. "They are deceptive to us."
On Both Sides of the Cuyahoga
On the other side of Cleveland, temptation to cross over was strong, too.
Republican Kitty Anderson began working in voting precincts during the early 1960s, and Tuesday's turnout in the Republican stronghold of Chagrin Falls was the largest she had ever seen.
It also had the most crossover voting.
Anderson, 76, and her husband, Donald, 78, served as poll workers on Tuesday and both helped fellow Republicans change parties all day; when it was time for them to vote, they crossed over, too.
"We are both concerned about what Obama would do if he was president. We don't trust him," Kitty Anderson said. "I have five grandchildren, and I keep thinking I want this world to be safe for these kids. I don't feel good about Obama. He just seems to be so vague." Come November, the Andersons said they'll most likely vote for McCain.
But not all of Chagrin Falls crossovers were motivated by the same things.
John Baggett, 50, said there was no single thing that turned him against the Republicans.
Baggett, a former military man who describes himself as conservative, said he believed the GOP has led the country in the wrong direction.