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 said Monday.
“It’s a nomination process,” he said during a debate with Democratic nominee Holli Woodings. “It should not be … run by the state government but by the parties themselves, because we are selecting our candidates.”
Woodings strongly disagreed; she said Denney wants to “put additional barriers between people and the ballot.”
The debate was sponsored by the City Club of Boise; the two will debate again tonight on Idaho Public Television.
Both candidates seek to replace retiring longtime Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.
Idaho didn’t have party registration until 2011, when the state Republican Party closed its primary election to anyone other than registered Republicans. The state Democratic Party has continued to allow anyone 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.
Denney, a nine-term state lawmaker and former speaker of the Idaho House, was a major proponent of the closed GOP primary, which has resulted in continued 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.”
If the parties ran their own nomination process without involving the state elections process, they could choose to hold conventions, caucuses or other means to select their candidates. Voters would get a say only in the general election.
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 nonpartisan ballot, the judges and the other issues that are nonpartisan 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, said, “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.”
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