Our View: Closing primaries denies voters their voice

November 8, 2013 

We still loathe the options available to Idaho’s majority “unaffiliated” voters that will be presented during the closed Republican Primary on May 20. As it did two years ago, the word “closed” stops us in our tracks.

We long for the days when Idahoans enjoyed the option of voting in any primary of their choosing so they could have a voice in the selection of candidates who will run in the November general elections. Those good ol’ days ended in 2011.

We feel this is important in a state of independent thinkers where Republicans dominate the political landscape because the majority of voters are listed as unaffiliated. As of Nov. 1, 2013, 59 percent of registered Idaho voters (440,000 of 740,000) are in that category. More than 65 percent of Ada County registered voters (133,000 of 202,400) don’t have party affiliation.

The big-tent, open-arms Republican Party appears unimpressed. We understand it is their constitutional right to hold a closed primary, but we think it is wrong to continue down this path when considering that most of the electorate are shut out of the process. Plus, there is evidence it frustrates voter turnout.

In 2007, the Idaho Republican Party Central Committee sued Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to end Idaho’s long-standing open primary system because it infringed on the GOP’s constitutional right to free association and allowed “crossover” voting. An example would be for Democrats or those of other parties to vote in the Republican primary in such great numbers that they might influence the choice of which Republican runs in the general election.

In March 2011, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Idaho’s open primary system unconstitutional, a system in place since 1970. Later in 2011, the majority Republican legislature passed a bill amending the primary procedures (not affecting general elections). The May 2012 primary was the first to be conducted under new rules.

Some of them are counterintuitive, if not counter-productive. A person registered in another party who wants to vote in the upcoming Republican primary must register as a Republican by March 14, 2014 — which is also the filing deadline for candidates. Voters wishing to switch won’t know the entire candidate slate at the time they register as Republicans.

Unaffiliated voters may register as Republicans up to and including the primary election day, May 20, 2014. But from that day forward until they change their status again, they will be publicly listed as members of the party.

This isn’t going to happen for those who purposely register as “unaffiliated” to avoid showing partisanship: judges, legislative staff, government workers and people employed by bosses who don’t appreciate political diversity. They can’t afford to be outed as members of a party. Furthermore, current rules don’t stop the dreaded “crossover” voters — they just add a step to the process.

Another provision is available to the leadership of the four political parties recognized in Idaho: Republican, Democrat, Libertarian and Constitution. They have until Nov. 21 to contact the secretary of state and say they will allow people outside their party to vote in their primaries.

We are not holding our breath waiting for Republicans to do so. Perhaps they are fearful that unaffiliated voters might have their say and co-opt their private process. If Republicans don’t reconsider their position, we think the unaffiliated should band together and petition to make Republicans pay for their exclusive primary — a prorated share of the $1 million to $2 million cost now paid by We The People.

Or Idaho could do something really grown-up and inclusive. The state could adopt a Top Two system, which has been ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Voters get to choose from the entire field, just as in a general election. The candidates with the two largest vote tallies — irrespective of party — move on to the general election.

Granted, this goes against the grain of party purity moves espoused by some. But it provides something the Constitution guarantees us all: a voice. Why should we have to artificially join a party to express it?

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service