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Posts published in “Day: September 4, 2009”

Closed primaries, maybe

Those of us interested in political analysis will be poring over what the parties in Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa provide in the coming weeks and months: Nothing less than evidence of who, exactly, votes in Idaho Republican Party primaries. Dry to some people, true, but lip-smacking to some of us.

All this comes out of a decision - a partial decision out today - in that case, where the Idaho Republican Party is seeking to get federal court, in this case, through Judge Lynn Winmill, to change Idaho election law.

For a couple of generations, the procedure for Idaho voters in primary elections has been that anyone can vote for any party's nominees. You can vote in the intra-party races in the Republican or Democratic parties or neither, but only for one. That's a little different from the "blanket" primaries - where you can bounce back forth between parties, voting for a Republican for the Senate and a Democrat for governor on the same ballot - which have been thrown out by courts. But not all that different. The closed system, backed by activists like Rod Beck and supported by current Idaho Republican Chair Norm Semanko, presumably would mandate a system something like Oregon's: You register to vote as a member of a party or as non-affiliated, and then you can vote for that party's nominees. And only that party.

The point is that people who are not members of a party can, under the current Idaho system, cross over to vote in another party's primary. Since so many Idaho elections are essentially settled in the Republican primary, the presumption has been that a good number of independents and Democrats do cross over to influence the outcome. That violates the right and ability of people to decide with whom they want to associate, an important point in many places but especially in a political context.

That can get overstated. For all the talk of crossover voting, you can't find a lot of examples in recent elections where it seems likely to have changed the outcome. The elected officials of the Idaho Republican Party are, with remarkable and even monotonous near-unanimity, conservative. And it's hard to buy Semanko's contention that (as Winmill described it) "'every single Republican who has been on the primary ballot since 1988' has modified his or her political message, ideology and position on public policy issues in order to persuade nonparty members to vote for him/her in the primary election." Really? Even such conservatives as Bill Sali? Modified from what?

Still, the larger point is a serious one, compelling at the least. And the tone of Winmill's decision today suggests he is more persuaded by it than not. He did not reach a final decision because the hard evidence that primary election results are or have been affected by crossover voting simply hasn't been provided. He invited both sides to present such evidence. Similar kinds of numbers have been developed for "blanket primary" legal cases, and likely comparable work could be done here too. At a guess (with such information as yet sight unseen) we'd suppose Winmill will grant the Republican request, if he gets evidence to reasonably support it. And there's a good chance that can be gotten.

And that evidence should be fascinating. Not to mention what happens if Winmill does ultimately side with the Republicans, and close the primaries.