Open primary unconstitutional - Coeur d'Alene Press: Political

Open primary unconstitutional

Ruling paves way for only GOP members to vote on candidates

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Posted: Thursday, March 3, 2011 12:00 am

BOISE - A federal judge on Wednesday declared Idaho's 38-year-old system for holding open primaries unconstitutional and handed conservatives in the state Republican Party a victory in their bid to make sure only registered party faithful take part in primary contests.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill deals specifically with Republican primary elections and paves the way for the GOP controlled Legislature to begin working on changing state law to change the rules for casting ballots in those early nominating contests.

The decision was cheered by Republican party leaders, who for years have complained the open primary system allowed Democrats and independents to cross over and skew results in some of the most competitive primary races.

"This decision will allow the Idaho Republican Party to decide how to conduct its primary elections," Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko said in a statement. "We only ask, and have a right to expect, that members of the Democrat Party or other political parties will not choose our candidates for us."

The court's ruling was jeered by the Idaho Democratic Party.

"Public elections are not meant for private clubs. Once again the Republican party is purging their ranks and requiring a loyalty oath to participate in the voting process," said Larry Grant, chair of the Idaho Democratic Party.

Grant pointed to a Boise State University survey which found that 42 percent of the state's voters consider themselves independent. In a closed primary, those independents must either declare a political party or forego voting in a primary altogether.

Those outside the two political parties found the ruling to be too exclusionary.

"The Republican Party asked the court to give it the right to redesign Idaho's electoral process and relegate independents to the 'no man's land' of a closed primary system," said Jackie Salit of, a national organization with an Idaho affiliate which supports independent voters.

Idaho state Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d'Alene, agreed that a closed primary could disenfranchise independent voters.

"They really don't have a place to go," she said.

However, Chadderdon does not believe election outcomes in North Idaho would be any different, whether primaries were opened or closed.

"I think people know their candidate today more than they used to," said Chadderdon. "They know who they are voting for."

The state party filed its lawsuit two years ago, setting up a legal and philosophical tussle with some of the state's top elected Republican officials.

The secretary of state, Republican Ben Ysursa, defended the state's open primary system in court, and Republican Gov. Butch Otter at one point questioned the merits of dismantling an election process that has enabled Republicans of all stripes to dominate the statehouse and Idaho's four congressional seats.

Ysursa called the ruling disappointing and said no decision has yet been made whether to appeal.

"My personal feelings on this have been clear throughout: I don't know what's broken here," Ysursa told The Associated Press. "I think the Republican Party's success in recent years has been quite remarkable with the open primary system. It's pretty hard to argue against the success we've had at the polls."

Idaho Republicans even strengthened their stranglehold on Gem State politics last year. In the current Legislature, Republicans hold 28 seats in the Senate, compared to 7 Democrats. In the House, the GOP has 57 of the 70 seats. Republicans own all the top elected state offices and all four Congressional seats.

But a growing conservative wing in the party was far from satisfied, and contended that voters they call "Republican lite" or identify more with moderates and independents hold too much sway in the primary races.

"We've got a lot of folks who are 'Republican legislators' who are not as conservative as the Republican party would like them to be," said Cornel Rasor, chairman of Bonner County's Central GOP Committee.

Rasor said a closed primary would thwart Democrats from crossing over and voting for less conservative Republicans in a state that mostly elects Republicans to office.

Laura Bry, chair of the Bonner County Democratic Central Committee, contends Winmill is putting the Republican Party's rights above an individual Idahoan's right to vote. Bry said she talks with a lot of folks who consider themselves independents who vote the candidate, not the party.

"This is a voter suppression tactic that limits individual voting rights," she said.

During a trial last fall, party attorneys claimed the open primary, by its very nature, infringed on their First Amendment right to free association. They argued that the open primary lumps die-hard, registered Republicans in the same voting bloc as non-members.

Too often, the open primary system diluted the nominating process by forcing candidates in tight races to moderate their message to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters.

Winmill agreed, saying the right to free association is also founded on the right not to be required to associate with certain groups. He also validated evidence presented at trial showing that past primaries were influenced by crossover voting by Democrats and independents.

"Idaho's current open primary system, as applied, forces the Idaho Republican Party to associate with, and have their nominees and positions determined by those who have refused to affiliate with the party," Winmill wrote. "The current primary system in Idaho imposes a severe burden on the Idaho Republican Party's First Amendment rights."

Ysursa said he expects legislation will emerge in coming weeks to close the GOP primary.

Senator Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said Winmill's ruling is neither right nor wrong. It's merely a different way of doing business, although it does guarantee that the party, rather than the general public, will decide which candidates represent the GOP ticket.

"If that's the way they want to select their candidate, that's what we should be doing," said Hammond. "I'm a Republican. What right to I have to tell the Democrats who they should have as their candidate?"

Hagadone News Network staff writers Tom Hassingler and Keith Kinnaird contributed to this report.

© 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Jeffrey Wherley posted at 6:15 pm on Sun, Mar 6, 2011.

    Jeffrey Wherley Posts: 3969

    1st Mr English,

    Our new County Clerk is going to have to spend enormous amounts of time and money, finding and fixing, your fiscal nightmares you created and left. Lucky you amazingly (finally) found the 10 years of embezzlement going on under your nose, before you left office so it doesn't look as bad for you politically (gives you plausible deniability). Any call for fiscal discipline from you is laughable.


    Should we allow Post Falls schools to vote in CDA Schools elections, or city councils. There are many separations in our system of government and the parties are one. I would love to see this create a stronger independent party in Idaho with a independent party and primaries. The idea of Republicans noting for a less popular Democrat in a primary and eliminating the popular one from the general should be of interest to all political parties

    During the primaries for president many states with open primaries complained about that happening and may have been the reason for Hillary not winning the democrat party nod. This is not a new problem and will continue to be a problem until we can get a solid third party going nationally. As stated by others here, most independents will go to the democrat primaries and so it hurts the republican party more than the democrats. The only loss the democrats will have is less local control but the trade will be a stronger statewide showing.

  • KayEllen48 posted at 8:29 pm on Sat, Mar 5, 2011.

    KayEllen48 Posts: 89

    About 1/3 of the states have open primaries. So are all of them unconstitutional?

  • toughluck posted at 6:11 pm on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    toughluck Posts: 167

    This really does not change anything for the sophisticated voter. You can change parties for every primary. Instead of making your choice right before you vote you make a choice a couple fo weeks earlier. Dem or GOP. If you want a better constitutional system then how about using Washington's take two primary system. All candidates are on the ballot during every primary, the top two vote getters regardless of party will advance to the general. Now that is real choice, and it has been ruled constitutional.

  • The Truth posted at 3:14 pm on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    The Truth Posts: 2193

    @dmarie - nope, this has *nothing* to do with "the people"'s all about The Party. Swear allegiance, or they will roll over "the people".

  • dmarie posted at 1:55 pm on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    dmarie Posts: 123

    This should have been an issue on the ballot to let the people decide. Since it is the counties that pay for the elections, it affects everyone. I disagree completely with this ruling. It is our right as a U.S. citizen to vote, and we should not be forced to vote party lines, but for a candidate's ability to do the job that would represent us the best. This ruling affects the core principles of our right to vote for whichever candidate we think is best. What was the problem that brought this issue to a federal judge? This decision is a harmful one for future generations, and their freedom to vote. I hope this decision will be appealed and presented on a ballot for the people of Idaho to vote on.

  • Nutter Watch posted at 1:21 pm on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    Nutter Watch Posts: 476

    The ruling ensures the preacher will continue preaching to the choir and eventually it degrades to a contest of who can out-nutter whom.

  • Ziggy posted at 12:25 pm on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    Ziggy Posts: 1296

    Bang, bang, the sound of the Repubs shooting themselves in the foot. Nowhere for us Independents to go--so, I guess we just become Demos for good and quit voting for Repubs that we like.
    Yes, it is taxation without representation. The Independents are forced either to vote for one party only or not vote at all.

  • Dan English posted at 10:10 am on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    Dan English Posts: 192

    Another big ticket spending reduction that should be closely examined and hopefully changed is the inclusion of precinct committee people on the public’s primary ballot every other May. In theory at least, all other elected officials represent ALL of their taxpayers but precinct committee people by the very definition of their job have very targeted and openly one-sided political duties. And yet they get included on primary ballots across the state. It is safe to say the cost for all the printing of extra ballot styles, computer programming, staff time, etc. likely runs over $100,000 statewide of wasted money. They could and should just be chosen by an election at a central committee function by both parties.

    I have been told that this is a "sacred cow" and won’t ever be changed because the legislators don't want to offend precinct committee people who are the foot soldiers of the parties. Seeing their name on the ballot along with their Presidential and other candidates is part of the "pay off" for all their hard work.

    I do respect the work of precinct committee people and they should be thanked and get some recognition for all they do. But it shouldn't have to come at such a great cost to the taxpayers, especially at a time like this when I'm sure the state and counties could make much better use of the large amount of dollars spent just so precinct committee people can have a souvenir from their time of service.

    To quote the other Dan in his reference to GOP spending cuts, "Do it! Prove that you're series about cutting spending. Do it now."

  • Dan Gookin posted at 9:08 am on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    Dan Gookin Posts: 761

    If members of the GOP want to cut state spending, then having a private caucus over a public primary would save money. Do it! Prove that you're series about cutting spending. Do it now.

  • Dan English posted at 6:20 am on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    Dan English Posts: 192

    If primaries are then meant to only involve party people, no matter which party, then I hope those supporting this change will at least agree that the party primary selection process should be run and paid for solely by the parties, not by the taxpayers at large. Otherwise it truly is taxation without representation.

    There are many processes that parties can and do use across the country to select their candidates who could then be certified to either the county clerk or secretary of state (depending on the office) for the general election. Again it makes no fiscal sense at all for the taxpayers to pay for party only functions.

  • The Truth posted at 6:16 am on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    The Truth Posts: 2193

    Well, that should pretty well kill the tea party in this state.

  • pubcrawler posted at 1:53 am on Thu, Mar 3, 2011.

    pubcrawler Posts: 85

    The Borg now belongs to their flat earthers. Will we finally see Libertarians running as Libertarians?

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