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GOP argues for closed primary in Idaho

Thu., Oct. 14, 2010

BOISE – The Idaho Republican Party finally got its chance Wednesday to make a case for scrapping the state’s open primary, which they say allows Democratic voters to unfairly influence GOP politics and results at the ballot box.

The job of defending Idaho’s 37-year-old system has put Secretary of State Ben Ysursa at odds with his own party’s wishes. But in a state already dominated by the GOP, Ysursa questioned the merits of tinkering with a system that’s reaping Republican benefits.

Currently, Idaho has an open primary, meaning voters can cast a ballot in any party they choose, a system similar to primaries in 20 other states.

Two years ago, members of the most conservative wing of the party convinced the state party to sue the state in a bid to close primary elections to only registered Republicans. They contended Democrats, independents and members of other parties systematically cross party lines to influence primaries.

Testimony Wednesday before U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill focused on a survey this year that questioned 400 voters who cast ballots in the 2008 primary.

The survey found that 41 percent of those voters identified themselves as non-GOP voters. Of those, 39 percent who identified as Democrats or likely to vote for Democrats said they usually take part in Republican primaries.

Party lawyers argue crossover voters infringe on the First Amendment right to free association because the open primary lumps the GOP faithful in the same voting pool as nonmembers.

Defense attorneys said the survey lacked convincing data to show any effect at the ballot box.

The trial is scheduled to conclude Friday.

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