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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Ysursa: ‘Some challenges ahead’

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he hasn't yet consulted with the Idaho Attorney General on how best to proceed in light of today's federal court ruling declaring Idaho's open primary election law unconstitutional, so he doesn't know if an appeal or other move is in the works. But, he said, "It was not totally unexpected. ... The judge ruled that the party rule and the party right of association trumped our primary law." He said, "I am pretty confident that the Legislature has a bill ready to run pertaining to this issue. I would expect to see that within the next week or so."

The question of whether, and if so how, to close Idaho's Republican primary election has been debated at length in the Legislature in recent years, without any resolution ever being reached. Ysursa said, "My main concern here, as Secretary of State and chief election official, it's up to us to get the mechanics right and the logistics right on how we're going to run an election." He said, "If in fact we're going to have a closed primary and party registration, we want to do that as efficiently as possible." Idaho's never had party registration, Ysursa noted, and the 750,000 people now registered to vote in Idaho are registered without any party affiliation. For a closed primary election, that'd have to change; the Idaho Republican Party sued the state, saying it wanted to close its primary election to anyone other than registered Republicans.

Ysursa, a Republican, said, "Idaho's had various and sundry methods of primary elections, and sometimes didn't have primaries at all." The state's primary elections were established as part of the progressive movement in 1909, he said, when Idaho also got the initiative, referendum and recall.

If the primary election system changes, it'll be one of three big changes coming for the May 2012 election, Ysursa said: That's also the first election for newly established legislative and congressional districts after the upcoming once-in-a-decade redistricting; and it'll be the first held under the state's consolidated election law, which combines various local district elections together with the state's general and primary elections. Said Ysursa, "From an election administration standpoint, there's some challenges ahead."

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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