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Idaho Secretary of State hopeful wants to eliminate primary election

Holli Woodings, left, and Lawerence Denney, right, at the City Club of Boise debate on Monday (Betsy Russell)
Holli Woodings, left, and Lawerence Denney, right, at the City Club of Boise debate on Monday (Betsy Russell)
BOISE – The Republican candidate for Idaho Secretary of State wants to do away with the state’s primary election. Primary elections aren’t really elections and they shouldn’t be run as if they are, GOP candidate Lawerence Denney declared today. Denney, the GOP nominee for the open post, faced off with Democratic nominee Holli Woodings, who sharply disagreed; she said Denney wants to “put additional barriers between people and the ballot.” The two outlined strongly differing approaches to the office at a debate sponsored by the City Club of Boise; they’ll debate again Tuesday night on Idaho Public Television. The two are vying to replace longtime Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who is retiring after his current term. Idaho never had party registration until 2011, when the state Republican Party closed its primary election to anyone other than registered Republicans and sued the state to force a change in its election laws. The state Democratic Party has continued to allow all comers to vote in its primary. Though Republicans hold every statewide office in Idaho and dominate the state Legislature, more than half of Idahoans remain unaffiliated with any party. “There’s a kind of misnomer that the primary is an election. It’s not an election,” said Denney, a nine-term state lawmaker and former speaker of the Idaho House. “It’s a nomination process. It should not be, in my opinion, it should not be run by the state government but by the parties themselves, because we are selecting our candidates.” Denney was a major proponent of the closed GOP primary, which has resulted in continuing low turnout in Idaho primary elections; in the May primary election in Kootenai County, just 16 percent of registered voters cast ballots. “Certainly I’ve had people tell me that we are suppressing the vote by having a closed primary,” Denney said. “Well, I think it’s important that Republicans nominate Republican candidates and that Democrats nominate Democrat candidates, and I think that there could be a process that’s a lot better than what we’re doing now.” When Denney was asked where Idaho’s independent voters would turn under his proposed changes to the primary election process, he said, “Independent voters right now get the non-partisan ballot, the judges and the other issues that are non-partisan on the ballot. … Certainly if you are choosing the Republican candidate, you should be willing at least to say that you are a Republican. If you are totally independent, you shouldn’t even be wanting to select or vote for the Republican candidate.” Woodings, a Democratic state representative from Boise who’s been campaigning hard around the state in a mini-van, young children in tow, said, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned at the many pancake breakfasts I’ve been to over the past summer, it’s that Idahoans are independents. I think that shows in the turnout in the primary. … They do not want to declare any affiliation with any party because they consider themselves to be independents, and I think we should respect that.” She added, “Putting in artificial barriers between the people and their ballot is something that I simply don’t support, and I think that people should be able to vote how they choose.” The two candidates also clashed on technology – with Woodings saying she wants to upgrade technology in the Secretary of State’s office to make it easier to access information and register to vote, and even unveiling a new smartphone app developed by her campaign team – and Denney calling for the state to invest in new technology to scan signatures at polling places to verify voters’ identity. He called for that in a recent newspaper guest opinion, and also called for using fingerprinting technology. “The technology is the same as the technology for scanning fingerprints,” Denney said. “Certainly I didn’t intend to say that we want to fingerprint everyone before they can vote. But there is a technology there that we can use.” He said, “We don’t have a lot of voter fraud in Idaho – yet. But I get news stories almost daily of things that are happening in other states, and certainly Idaho’s not immune, and I think it’s best for us to be on top of the situation to start with, rather than trying to catch up after it’s done.” Woodings, co-owner of a Boise high-tech firm, said Idaho already scans signatures in poll books after every election to verify identity. “When I talk to county clerks, the amount of money that it would cost them to deploy the type of technology that my opponent is talking about would be astronomical, not only in purchasing the technology but then in training the many poll workers who run our elections to use that technology. So to me, that’s a little bit far-flung for a problem that doesn’t exist, and that’s voter fraud.” Denney first outlined the idea in an essay on what he’ll do in his first 100 days if elected. Woodings said, “I think it’s really important that we do use technology in ways that make sense, such as making more information available to voters, and increasing turnout in those ways, but not using technology as a barrier between people and the polling booth.”
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