I read with bemused interest two items on the Opinion page of the March 4 issue of the Idaho Statesman. In an excellent Letter to the Editor, Margaret Anderson, of Boise, who identified herself as an “unaffiliated voter,” complained about the March 8 primary election in which only Republicans and Constitution Party members may vote and asked why all taxpayers are being required to pay for it. She accurately noted that there will be a second primary election on May 17 in which all can participate.
On the same page there was an op-ed piece written by Jim Pierce, the 2nd vice chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, in which he urged unaffiliated voters such as Anderson to “pay attention,” register as a Republican and “participate in the ‘real election’ on March 8.” Pierce also acknowledged that unaffiliated voters in Idaho outnumber Republicans and Democrats combined. That is my understanding as well.
Prior to 2011, Idaho had been an “open primary” state; that meant all voters could vote in any party’s primary. This was apparently unacceptable to the leaders of the Republican Party, so they brought a lawsuit in federal court contending that an open primary violated their First Amendment rights to “free association.” In his 2011 decision, District Judge Lynn Winmill agreed with them, stating that, “This right of freedom of association necessarily presupposes the freedom to identify the people who constitute the association and to limit the association to those people only.” But the judge noted as well, “An important corollary of the right to freely associate is the right not to associate” (emphasis mine).
So the Republicans were allowed to have their closed primary. But they were not content with that. They went beyond the parameters of Judge Winmill’s ruling and passed the law mandating the March 8 closed presidential primary and requiring all of us taxpayers to pay for it. Thus, Anderson and all unaffiliated voters, and I and all Democratic Party voters, are effectively deprived of our collective right not to associate with the Republicans because we are required to pay for their exclusive election. We are arguably being denied equal protection under the law in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. This could be litigated in the near future.
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The Democrats in Idaho express their presidential preferences in a caucus system in which only Democrats participate. This year the caucus for Ada County Democrats will be held on March 22. The costs associated with the caucus, as well as all other caucuses held around the state, are paid by the Democratic Party. The Democrats have never sought governmental assistance for their presidential nominating process.
It is ironic that Pierce, speaking for his party, so cavalierly ignores my right and that of thousands of others to choose not to pay for nominating the likes of Donald Trump and the rest of their candidates that they are touting. Sorry, but I choose not to associate. Can I get a tax refund?
Tony Park is a Boise attorney and is a former Democratic Idaho attorney general.