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South Carolina's open Democratic primary means Republicans can vote, too

What to expect from South Carolina primary

When South Carolina voters cast their votes in the state's Democratic primary Saturday, registered Republicans will also be able to show up and vote. Here, the state's primaries are open, which means all registered South Carolina voters can participate in either party's primary regardless of political affiliation. 

The South Carolina Republican Party announced in September that it would join a list of other states that would not hold a presidential primary this year. Historically, the South Carolina GOP also didn't hold primaries when Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were incumbents in 1984 and 2004, respectively.

Now, some South Carolina Republicans and Tea Party activists are encouraging Republican voters to participate in Saturday's contest. Karen Martin, organizer of the Spartanburg Tea Party, is leading Trump 229 (229 for February 29th), an effort that's using social media and word-of-mouth to encourage Republicans to vote for Bernie Sanders on Saturday. 

Joe Biden has been leading the race in South Carolina. Martin said that her small group was hoping to win enough support for Sanders to bump him into first place, above Joe Biden, who has been holding onto a shrinking lead in the state. 

Martin and her group say they're really pushing for closed primaries in the state, which would mean only registered party members would be able to vote in their party's primary. Disrupting the process, she suggested, might move the state to close its primaries.

The initial impetus for the group, according to Martin, was "who can we pick to coalesce our votes around that would make the most impact on South Carolina Democrats understanding why they should join us closing their primary?"

She told CBS News her group's objective is to restart the discussion about closing the state's primary and that on March 1, the group will "go away." Cross-party voting isn't sanctioned by Republicans in the state. The South Carolina Republican Party released a statement a few weeks ago saying it doesn't like Democrats "meddling" in its primaries and would not encourage its members to do so in the Democratic primary.

At least one state GOP official suggested the cross-party efforts were misguided.

"There's a difference between pushing for cross party-voting and saying that we are for closed primaries," contended Greenville County Republican Party Chairman Nate Leupp, who said he only knows of one county party chairman pushing for cross-party voting. Leupp also added that he doesn't think it's a matter of "influencing elections" but instead simply a case of what the state law allows.

"I would like the state legislature to pass a law closing the primaries and saying that only Democrats should have a choice in who their nominee i.e champion is and that Republicans likewise," said Leupp. "Until the Democrats join the Republicans in making that call stating who should be able to vote, for what reasons they should be able to vote, there is no morality assigned to voting in South Carolina right now."

The chair of the Greenville County Democratic Women, Lee Turner maintains that because of the dominance of the Republican-held state legislature, without an open primary Democrats would be excluded from the voting process.

"I know a lot of people on our side are up in arms about this. And I'm like, 'People this is, you know, what we have to contend with in order for us to retain our voting rights," said Turner. "Closed primaries are nothing more than voter suppression in a state where one party is dominant. And it means that the other side has to be ready, willing and able to have the table's turned on them…it's just the way it works." South Carolina is solidly Republican — 47% of the state is affiliated with the GOP, and 37% are registered Democrat, according to Gallup

Other Democratic party leaders like Charleston County Democratic Party Chair Colleen Condon think this isn't a "sabotage" mission.

"Many former Republicans are planning on voting Democratic this time, not to sabotage, but because they truly believe a Democratic candidate is the best one to elect this November," Condon said.

Turner said that even in the Upstate, she's not as concerned as she was earlier in the week, since recent polls show Joe Biden still in the lead. "Now I feel safe in my heart versus, you know, trying to be super strategic about it."

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