On the final day of the Legislature, the Idaho Senate has gotten itself embroiled in a protracted debate about primary election procedures. After moving SB 1507, the “call-for ballot” bill, to the 14th order for amendment, the Senate amended it to allow a party to hold its own closed primary election if it pays for it. But the main gist of the bill is to require people to check a box in a public poll book if they’re requesting the ballot of a party that wants to distinguish its voters. Now, the bill’s been debated for the past 40 minutes. Democrats objected strongly to the idea of making public which party’s ballot an Idaho voter chooses at the primary election. “I think there is no more sacrosanct rite than to protect the privacy of how you vote in the state of Idaho,” said Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum.
Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Brad Little, R-Emmett, said, “I can tell you that the majority party is not all that excited about this. This issue has not been brought by a private party in Idaho, it’s been brought by the U.S. Supreme Court. … This is the best alternative out there.” Idaho’s Republican Party has passed a party rule and resolution calling for its primary election to be closed to all but registered Republicans. But Idaho has no party registration, and close to a third of Idahoans are independents. Court precedents suggest the party could win if it sued Idaho for requiring it to let non-Republicans participate in its primary.
But Sen. Kate Kelly, D-Boise, noted that the bill would cost the state more than $200,000 in taxpayer funds, both at the state level and for additional county costs that come from property taxes. “If the Republicans want to exclude otherwise qualified Idaho voters from the Republican Party nominating process, they have a constitutional right to be able to do that,” said Kelly, an attorney. “But the bill proposed today will cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to implement. … If the current primary system doesn’t work for the Republicans, then they should take care of their own problem with a party-paid party nominating process.” The bill squeaked through on a 20-15 vote, and now goes to the House. Click below to see who voted which way.