Open Republican Primary: No Thanks. Been There, Done That.

Editorial by Bryan Smith, 1st Vice Chair, BCRCC

In a recent house editorial, Katie Stokes urged the Idaho Legislature to “re-open the Republican primary.”  An Idaho history lesson is in order for Mrs. Stokes, who moved to Idaho a few years ago from New York after Corey Taule left for greener pastures.

For many years before 2008, the law in Idaho was that the Republican primary was open.  Republicans, Democrats, and those from the Libertarian and Constitutional parties could help pick Republican nominees to run in the general election against nominees from the Democrat, Libertarian or Constitutional Parties.

For years, the Idaho Republican Party had tried without success to get the Republican controlled house and senate, the Republican Governor, and the Republican Secretary of State to close the Republican primary so that only Republicans could pick their Republican nominees in the general election.

I asked then Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, affectionately known as “Big Ben,” why Republicans would want “other teams” picking our team for the general election.  Big Ben said something to the effect that an open primary allows as many people as possible to participate in the voting process.

I remember thinking, “if it’s the goal to get as many people as possible to participate in the voting process, why don’t we just let felons, children, and noncitizens vote—after all, that will get more people participating in the voting process.”  Big Ben could never give me an answer that calmed my concerns about the government requiring the Republican Party to allow people from other parties to help pick Republican nominees for the general election.

In 2008, the Republican Party filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that Idaho’s open primary law violated the Republican Party’s First Amendment right of “Freedom of Association” under the United States Constitution.  Freedom of Association is the right of the people to come together with other people without government interference.  And inherent in the right to associate is the right to disassociate with people you don’t want to associate with.  Think about it–I doubt Mormons want the government telling them they must allow Catholics to help pick the Mormon Prophet any more than Catholics want the government telling them they must allow Mormons to help pick the Catholic Pope.

Judge Lynn Winmill ruled in favor of the Republican Party that Idaho’s open primary violated the Republican Party’s right of Freedom of Association.  In other words, the open primary law that forced Republicans to associate with non-Republicans was, in a word, unconstitutional.  So, when someone urges the Idaho legislature to re-open the Republican primary, she is really urging the violation of the constitutional rights of all republicans across the state.  No thanks.  Been there, done that.



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