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Eye On Boise

Judge to Idaho GOP on ‘crossover’ voting in primary elections: Prove it

Here’s why U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill said in his ruling today in Idaho GOP vs. Ysursa, Idaho’s closed-primary election lawsuit, that he can’t decide the case yet: The Idaho GOP, in its arguments, relied almost entirely on a U.S. Supreme Court case, California Democratic Party v. Jones, in which the high court overturned that state’s “blanket” primary as unconstitutional. In that case, the Supreme Court justices were presented with extensive statistics, studies and expert testimony on crossover voting the blanket primary brought about, and its impact on the party’s right of association. But Winmill noted that blanket primary elections, in which voters pick and choose among candidates from various parties, are different from open primary elections like Idaho’s, in which voters must choose a single party’s ballot and vote only for candidates on that ballot, not mix and match candidates from different parties.

Winmill wrote that all he got in the Idaho case was Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko’s testimony that he “can’t say whether (crossover voting) did or didn’t or has or hasn’t affected the ultimate outcome of any particular primary,” that no studies of that exist, but that Semanko asserted that “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 back him or her in the primary. “Chairman Semanko and IRP cite no evidence supporting this conclusion,” the judge wrote. “Surveys, expert testimony, statistics and/or testimony from the candidates themselves is needed.”

Therefore, Winmill concluded, “Genuine issues of material fact remain - mainly whether and to what extent ‘crossover’ voting exists in Idaho, and whether and to what extent the threat of such crossover voting affects the message of IRP and its candidates.” He reopened the case to submission of such evidence, and declared his intent to “conduct the trial or evidentiary hearing, and issue a final decision, well before the 2010 Idaho legislative session begins.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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