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Posts tagged: closed primary

Otter, Batt, other top GOP leaders speak out against rule to limit ballot access for GOP primaries

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, former Gov. Phil Batt, and an array of other top GOP officials have come out against a proposed new Idaho Repubican Party rule that would require party officials' blessing before any candidate could appear on a GOP primary ballot, the AP reports. The rule is up for consideration at a state GOP central committee meeting this Friday and Saturday in McCall.

“This is not the party of Phil Batt, this is not the party of Ronald Reagan,” Otter said, of proponents of the plan's loyalties. “It seems to me they want to limit freedom of choice, rather than expanding it.” Batt told AP reporter John Miller. “It's a very poor idea. We need to broaden participation in our elections. I think that would narrow it.” Click below for Miller's full report. Also, Idaho political reporter Melissa Davlin has a report here on opposition to the proposed new rule that's cropping up among Republicans on social media.

New closed GOP primary lifts veil on party affiliation of political appointees

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports today that the controversial practice of appointing just independents and Republicans - and no Democrats - to some state boards that are required to not be dominated by members of one party has been placed in jeopardy, because the new closed GOP primary has revealed that some of those independents actually are Republicans - they've registered as Republicans in order to vote in the primary. Popkey found that of 117 members of boards and commissions with the party-split requirement, 10 switched in this year's primary from the affiliation they declared at the time of their appointment by the governor; you can read his full report here.

Otter expects Idaho GOP to re-examine closed primary, after record low turnout

Gov. Butch Otter told the Associated Press today that he expects GOP leaders at their state party convention in June to debate the merits of the party's new closed primary election, after Tuesday's record-low turnout. “It will be, 'What should we do? Should we make any changes?' ” Otter told AP reporter John Miller; click below for Miller's full report. Otter was among those who opposed closing the primary, but the Idaho Republican Party sued the state and won, overturning the previous open primary system. Then, the party opted to close its primary vote to anyone other than registered Republicans.

Grant urges Dems, independents not to register GOP, Semanko defends closed primary

In messages ahead of tomorrow's first-ever closed Republican Party primary in Idaho - and the Democratic primary, which remains open to everyone - the chairmen of Idaho's Democratic and Republican parties have issued statements. Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko defends the closed primary, declaring, “We will have the right to select candidates who represent our values without interference from other parties or special interest groups for the first time in nearly 40 years.” You can read his full statement here.

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant, meanwhile, is urging against calls for Democrats and independents to register as Republicans and vote in the GOP primary. “If Republicans want to fight it out for control of the Republican Party, then so be it.,” writes Grant. “I have no reason to try to fix that. If they throw all the moderates out of their party, then I welcome them into mine.” Click below for Grant's full statement.

Dems vote 70-0 to keep party primary open

The Idaho Democratic Party, at its fall state central committee meeting over the weekend in Sun Valley, voted to keep its primary election open to all voters, rather than closing it to anyone but registered party members as Idaho Republicans have opted to do. “Not a single person on our state central committee was interested in disenfranchising voters,” said Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant.  “The Democratic Party welcomes everyone that has been thrown out of the Republican Party by the extremists trying to purify their ranks by closing their primary.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “Our Democratic legislators represent everyone in their districts, not just the Democrats but Republicans and independents as well, so our election process should reflect that.” Saturday's central committee vote was 70-0. Idaho's next primary election is May 15, 2012.

9th Circuit tosses closed-primary appeal

An appeal by independents of the federal court decision declaring Idaho's open primary unconstitutional has been tossed out by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which said it's moot, now that Idaho's changed its election laws and allowed for a closed GOP primary election this spring, in which only registered Republicans will be allowed to vote. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Independent Idaho in for poll surprise…

Say you're an Idaho voter who wants to cast a ballot in next year's primary election for Sarah Palin for president, or Mike Huckabee, or Mitt Romney. In a state that's never had party registration, you could be in for a surprise at the polls, where voters will be required to become party members - or they might not get to vote in anything but nonpartisan judge races. “Being an independent, you don't like that too well,” said Mitch Campbell, a Twin Falls businessman who heads the American Independent Movement of Idaho. “I think there's just a lot of people that don't like it too well.”

Click here to read my Sunday story about Idaho's complicated new primary election system, a modified-closed primary that replaces the state's long-established open primary.

Idaho’s open primary declared unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill has declared Idaho's open primary election system unconstitutional with respect to the state's Republican Party primary, which the party passed a rule saying it wants to close. “An important corollary of the right to freely associate is a right not to associate,” Winmill wrote in the decision, issued today. He found “clear evidence of crossover voting” in Idaho's primaries.

Though the states' expert testimony showed that closing the primary “will likely have the 'very real and immediate effect of … producing more ideologically extreme candidates,'” Winmill wrote, “At first blush, that would appear to be a strong argument for maintaining the status quo. But, choosing ideologically extreme candidates is precisely what a political party is entitled to do in asserting its right of association under the First Amendment.” You can read the judge's decision here.

Closed primary trial: Party makes case

The Idaho Republican Party finally got its chance Wednesday to make a case for scrapping the state’s open primary, the AP reports, which they say allows Democratic voters to unfairly influence GOP politics and results at the ballot box. Click below for a full report on the first day of the closed-primary trial from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Closed primary trial kicks off in federal court

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is in federal court today, defending the state’s primary election system in a lawsuit from his own party, the Idaho Republican Party. The party sued to try to force the closure of its primary elections to anyone other than registered Republicans; Idaho has never had party registration. The three-day bench trial before U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill kicked off this morning with cross-examination of expert witnesses, as much of the arguments and direct examination of experts has been submitted in advance in writing. First up today was Bob Moore, of Moore Information, which conducted a survey the party cites to argue that “crossover” voting by Democrats in Republican primaries violates its rights and has forced Republican candidates to modify their positions.

The state, in its trial brief, argues that evidence, including expert reports submitted by both sides, shows “no legally significant adverse impact to the Republican Party from operation of Idaho’s long-standing primary system.  The party instead has thrived electorally and achieved a level of political dominance unmatched in any other state.”

After the party sued, both sides filed motions for summary judgment in the case in 2008; the court denied both in 2009, and asked for proof about whether crossover voting happens in Idaho, and to what extent it affects the message of the Idaho Republican Party and its candidates. In this week’s trial, the two sides are sorting through what each has submitted as proof. You can read the party’s trial brief here and the state’s trial brief here.

What the voting records show…

When two professors, Washington University law professor and political science department Chair Andrew Martin and Colorado State University political scientist Kyle Saunders, analyzed every vote cast in the Idaho Legislature, they found no evidence that Democratic crossover voting in Idaho’s primary elections has resulted in the election of “Republicans in name only” who actually vote like Democrats. Instead, they found that all of Idaho’s GOP lawmakers voted more conservatively than the state’s Democratic lawmakers. The only very small overlap was in the House, where a couple of conservative Democrats overlapped the most liberal Republicans in voting records - chiefly Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, who voted more conservatively than two GOP House members in 2005-06 and than one, Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, in 2007-08.

Click here to see a chart showing the breakdown for House and Senate for the 2008-08 session. The Senate shows no overlap among Republican and Democratic members’ voting patterns at all; Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, whom the professors showed had the most liberal voting record of all GOP senators from 2003 to 2008, still voted more conservatively than every Democratic senator in every session. Schroeder was defeated in the GOP primary this year by a more conservative candidate, Gresham Dale Bouma.

The politics of parties…

An expert report commissioned by the state to defend its current primary election laws in a federal lawsuit includes this insight into party politics: Political parties in America have three “interrelated components,” according to the state’s experts, Andrew Martin of Washington University in St. Louis and Kyle Saunders of Colorado State University: The party in the electorate, the party in government, and the party organization. The party organization is the most ideologically extreme of the three; its goal is to promote the party label and positions and motivate its activists.

Party members who are elected to office tend to be less extreme; their goal is “to continue winning elections and therefore hold power.” That requires moderate enough views to appeal to a general election constituency.

The party in the electorate - voters who identify with the party - are the least ideologically extreme of the three groups. Their goal is “to vote and have their voice heard.”

Closed primaries lead to more-extreme candidates, the two professors wrote, with old-fashioned party “machine” politics the most-extreme example. “Open primaries produce less ideologically extreme candidates than closed primaries, and produce candidates that are more representative of the party in the electorate as well as the overall electorate,” they wrote. “Open primaries increase citizen engagement as well as voter turnout in primary and general elections.”

Closed-primary lawsuit proposes historic change for state

In the federal lawsuit Idaho GOP v. Ysursa, which now will continue further into the fall (see earlier posts today), the Idaho Republican Party sued the state, seeking to close its primary elections to anyone other than registered Republicans. Currently, any voter can select which party’s ballot to vote at the polls. But here’s where the case intersects with Idaho history: “Idaho’s never had party registration, in its history, and Idahoans pride themselves on their independence,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.  “Idahoans as a whole, and the independent voter and how they’re treated is a crucial part of this whole scenario,” Ysursa said, “and there’s quite a bit of disagreement over that.”

Time growing short for primary election changes

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa says regardless of how the federal court case (Idaho GOP vs. Ysursa) over Idaho’s open primary election system goes, it’s getting late to make any changes for this May’s primary. “The county clerks and this office are proceeding with status quo like we have to, as far as this next primary,” Ysursa said. “Filing is going to open up March 8th. It seems we’re coming up against it, on any sort of change that would have to happen.” If a federal judge declares Idaho’s current system unconstitutional - as the Idaho Republican Party contends - the Legislature still would have to change the system, and they start meeting in January. And there’s the possibility of an appeal, whichever way the court rules. Idaho will have a big election year in 2010, with offices ranging from the governor to every seat in the state Legislature on the ballot. Said Ysursa, “People think it’s a long ways away - we elected officials do not, that work in it.”

Ysursa is an Idaho Republican himself. “I think there’s only one thing worse than being sued by your enemies, it’s being sued by your friends,” he joked. But he added, “Election issues and things of that nature, I get sued by various folks. So it’s nothing new - it comes with the job title.”

Semanko: Idaho GOP ‘welcomes today’s decision’

Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko had this response to today’s federal court decision asking for more proof before ruling on whether Idaho’s open primary elections are unconstitutional: “The Idaho Republican Party welcomes today’s decision, rejecting the attempts that have been made to throw this case out. The matter will now go forward for a final decision in an expedited manner.” Click below to read the rest of Semanko’s statement.

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.”

Closed primary fight hits federal court

The fight between the Idaho Republican Party and the state over whether the state’s primary elections can be closed to all but registered party members - Idaho has no official party registration - arrived in federal court in Boise for arguments on Wednesday. Click below to read the full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak; U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill didn’t indicate when he’ll issue his ruling in the case.

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About this blog

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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