Vote Sign, Aiken Municipal Building (copy) (copy)

South Carolina does not have voter registration by party which means any voter can cast a ballot in the Feb. 29 Democratic primary.

The issue usually gets more focus ahead of primaries for state and local offices, but it's on the table again as South Carolina counts down to the Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 29.

South Carolina does not have voter registration by party. That means a voter can choose whether to cast a ballot in either the GOP or Democratic primary – one but not both on a particular day.

The rub in this presidential race is that Republican leadership in the state, solidly behind President Donald Trump, has decided not to conduct a presidential primary in 2020. That leaves the hotly contested Democratic primary race as the only game in town.

And no one can predict just how many people planning to vote for Trump in November are going to decide to participate in the Democratic primary. While candidates are spending much of their time courting traditional Democratic constituencies, as well as independents, those calling themselves Republicans are a wild card.

They could play a role in deciding who wins the Democratic race here if significant numbers decide to participate. They could be sincere in voting for the candidate they deem the best Democrat or they could be up to so-called political mischief by trying to help a candidate they believe is the easiest for Trump to defeat in November.

There is no electoral downside to anyone participating on Feb. 29 as voting that day does not bind you to a party or primary when June and state and local primaries come around.

Before labeling the system a bad one, consider that the state Republican Party wants to take away the choice on primary day. The GOP wants voter registration by party, meaning a voter could cast ballots only in the party he or she chooses when registering. Democrats have not pushed such but don’t think they wouldn’t consider the same if their political position in the state were stronger.

Though some would advocate further opening the primary process by allowing people to choose individual races in both primaries on any given day, such would in effect make the primary day a general election.

We find unappealing either party trying to force a person to decide at registration whether he or she is a Democrat or Republican. A voter's independence is something to be cherished, even encouraged. Giving voters the option of choosing a party primary should remain, no matter their motive for voting.

— The Times and Democrat, Orangeburg