Leaders from Idahos 44 counties have one big request for Republicans meeting this week in Twin Falls: Please rethink the policy of having a closed primary election.
The Idaho GOPs 2012 state convention got under way Thursday, and the closed primary system was sure to generate some debate.
But the Idaho Association of Commissioners and Clerks is hoping for more than just talk. The group sent a statement urging party leaders to go back to an open primary.
The GOP successfully sued the state last year to close its primary and require party registration in order to participate.
The states first closed primary May 15 resulted in record-low voter turnout. Just 24.4 percent of registered voters navigated the confusing new rules and procedures. The previous low, 25 percent, came in 1988.
At last weeks Idaho Association of Commissioners and Clerks meeting, a majority of officials there agreed that the blame lies with the primary provision requiring anyone who wants to vote to affiliate with the GOP party and make their ballot selection public record.
That meant that voters had to declare whether they were Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated before picking a ballot. That was a first for Idaho, where registration previously had not asked about affiliation with a party.
I think there were a lot of problems in each county over declaration, said Bill Brown, IACC president and Adams County commissioner. Thats the reason they want to get the statement out before the GOP convention is in full gear.
As a Republican, Brown said, he understands his partys desire to prevent Democrats from infiltrating the primary to affect election results. But many commissioners and clerks say requiring voters to affiliate discouraged participation.
Primary turnout in Latah County remained stagnant between 2010 and this year, at 24.73 percent and 25.19 percent, respectively, said County Clerk Susan Petersen.
Some of the southern counties ... said that there were voters who literally turned around and said, Im not going to vote now, she said.
Petersen, a Republican, said the policy statement to the state GOP convention was a compromise to a proposal by the Bingham County clerk to make county offices nonpartisan.
Latah County did not support the closed primary, she said. We want to encourage voting, we want people to vote, we want people to participate. I dont think its going to be well-received by the Republican Party.
Latah County Commissioner Dave McGraw said the closed primary was meant to prevent cross-over voting and was partially successful. But the downside, of course, was a historic turnout of the wrong kind.
I guess to some degree Im in favor of the closed primary, because it did do what it was meant to do, he said.
Brown said people had misgivings, too, when Idaho began caucuses. Misgivings over the closed primary could dissipate in the future.
Maybe we should let it run a couple years and then look at it, he said.