"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

The fence isn’t that high

As Idaho legislators push through (it’s already cleared one committee) legislation to deal with the new closed-primary regime after the Republican court case, they deal necessarily with some airy concepts. Some of them need grounding.

Part of the idea behind the lawsuit, initiated by state Republican Party leaders (not elected officials, many of whom were opposed to it), was that by allowing only registered Republicans to vote in that party’s primary, the legal change would result in an election reflecting the views of loyal Republicans only.

Senator Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, was quoted this way in committee discussion on a section of the bill requiring that people declare a party preference well before the primary: “If you are previously affiliated with a party, hopefully by mid-March you know whether you want to continue to be affiliated with that party. … By doing it this way, you keep individuals who are known political operatives from participating in the primary of another party if that party chooses to exclude them.”

Well, no: You don’t necessarily keep them out at all.

Under the terms of the legislature’s bill – in fact, under party registration rules in any state that has registration (Oregon, for one) – anyone can register as a Republican. How about Larry Grant, the new chair of the Idaho Democratic Party? Would anything in the bill stop him from registering to vote as a Republican? Or Democratic former Governor Cecil Andrus, or current House Democratic leader John Rusche? Not a thing, so far as we can tell: The bill says that voters must either choose an affiliation or be described (by default) as non-affiliated, but it says nothing about qualifications, about who is allowed to register as a Republican (or a Democrat). Nor does it say that you can’t switch your registration back and forth, up to the cutoff date.

In fact, this sort of thing occasionally happens in Oregon, people who switch their party registration just before a primary, then switch it back again. It’s legal, as it would be in Idaho. Happens most often, so far as we can tell, among some of the people who are the most politically active – the “known political operatives” Davis was talking about.

The only way you could stop it would be to … well, are we really going down the road of legally binding political party/ideology oaths? Challenges of the right to vote from … whoever? Someone in particular? These would be about the only thing that would really stop the kind of crossover Davis is talking about.

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  1. mark said:

    Davis also spoke about how your declared party affiliation would be a public record. I suppose this would allow the Idaho GOP to attempt to publicly embarrass the “known political operatives” that are ostensibly crossing party lines to purposely render the Idaho GOP impure.

    March 30, 2011

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