The Senate State Affairs Committee has agreed on a party-line vote to introduce legislation changing Idaho’s primary election system. Under the proposed plan, Idahoans would have to register with a political party, but they could choose ‘independent’ and still vote in primary elections. However, their choice of which party’s ballot they vote at each election would be public record. This “modified closed” primary system was promoted by The Common Interest, a citizen group, as a way to avoid losing a lawsuit from the GOP if that party attempts to unilaterally close its primary.
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “One of the hardest things we’ve had to do here is taking off our party hats. … It can be very easily misconstrued that this is the Republicans trying to push something down someone’s throats.”
Keith Allred, head of The Common Interest, said the modified closed primary system has been shown in empirical research to result in election results that are more representative, rather than dominated by party extremists or “tomfoolery” where members of one party attempt to sabotage the results for another party. He said lawmakers face a “stark choice” – if they don’t pass the bill, “it is likely that, after a messy litigation process, Idaho’s open primary statute will be trumped by an internal Republican Party rule that closes its primaries, including closing them to independents.”
Democrats on the panel were suspicious, however, and county clerks testified that the state should “go slow” on changing the primary system – that there’s not time to move to a new system before the 2008 election. “It’s going to be a major change in the election process,” said Sharon Widner, president of the Idaho Association of County Recorders and Clerks.
State Affairs Chairman Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said the bill will return to the committee for a full hearing before proceeding further – though time is running out for this year’s legislative session.