An Oct. 12 article in the Idaho Statesman discussed former Idaho Republican lawmaker Kathy Skippen’s movement to get Democrats to register as Republicans so they can participate in the “Closed Idaho Primary.” This is not the answer to a broken primary system of limiting voter participation, and is a strategy to further eliminate loyal opposition. We need to fix the problem the right way.
First let me tell you that I am a former Republican and active party member in Idaho. I was transferred to another state in 2006. When I returned in 2011 I became aware that politics in Idaho had changed. The biggest change was that because I had decided not to affiliate myself with any political party, I would be losing important voting rights.
Up until 2012, voters in Idaho enjoyed the freedom to vote for the candidates of their choice. No political party, politician or faction was allowed to dictate their choices. Voters had this freedom because when we registered to vote, we didn’t have to tell the government which party we followed. We simply made our own choices.
That all changed beginning in 2009, when a small faction inside the Republican Party sued to force voters to register into a political party. The reason was simple: This small faction couldn’t win elections fair and square, so they wanted to limit who could vote in the primary election.
In many states with a healthy two-party system, this may not have been much of a problem. But Idaho has been a one-party state for a generation. That is not going to change anytime soon.
Most elections are decided in the Republican Primary, not the general election. In fact, Democrats do not even run candidates in many races around the state. So this change resulted in approximately half of Idaho voters losing their right to participate in the only important round of the election: the primary. That’s wrong.
The good news is that many Republicans, Democrats and independents agree. Last year, state Sen. Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise) introduced a bill into our Legislature to bring back a constitutional open primary. All the candidates would run on a single ballot. All Idahoans could once again vote for whomever they want. The two most popular candidates would move on to the general election, regardless of party. Voter freedom would be restored, and elected officials would have to represent everyone rather than just their party’s extreme factions.
We are realistic about the chances of the Legislature passing such a bill, especially given that many legislators now have to answer to an extremist faction rather than the voters. If voters want their rights back, they may have to be willing to fight for them all the way to a ballot measure.
We’re calling on Ms. Skippen’s group and Idahoans of all political stripes to join our cause. It’s time to support a constitutional open primary for Idaho. It’s time to give the citizens their rights back. If you agree please go to https://www.change.org/p/bring-back-open-primaries-to-idaho.
Deborah Gold, of Boise, is retired from the USDA Forest Service and currently a member of Bring Back Open Primaries to Idaho, as part of a national initiative to combat voter suppression. A lifelong moderate Republican, she is now an unaffiliated voter.