Members-Only Voting

Republican overreach has locked thousands of Idahoans out of the vote.

Idaho’s primary system has been turned into an exclusive club for Republicans only. Although Democrats and Independents together make up a majority of voters in the state, only Republicans will be voting in most contested elections.

For years and years, we in Idaho have enjoyed not only a secret ballot, but also secret party affiliation. Now, casting a ballot on primary day — Tuesday, May 15 — will give full public disclosure to each private individual’s choice of political parties.

Until now, the drill for the Idaho voter on primary election day has been to sign in at the precinct polling place and receive a perforated ballot — one side with the printed Republican candidates and one side for Democrats. In the privacy of the voting booth, the voter could then mark the ballot on the party of choice, tear the perforations, slip the marked piece of paper in the ballot box and toss the other half in the wastebasket.

Nobody knew which party you had chosen.

That cloak of privacy gave each of us a warm buzz of satisfaction. The tradition probably originated as a populist attempt to shield workers from the displeasure of their bosses.

In the early ’60s, the Idaho Legislature attempted to reform the system by requiring individuals to ask for a Republican or Democratic ballot. I remember it clearly, as my husband, Scott, was running that year for prosecuting attorney of Kootenai County on the Republican ticket. After I asked for a Democratic ballot, I heard the election judges in the background whispering, “But isn’t her husband a Republican?” Tut-tut.

I didn’t like the situation, and fortunately the rest of the state protested, too. The Legislature sheepishly reverted to the perforated ballot. The open primary prevailed.

Fast-forward to the 2011 legislative session, when Idaho’s Legislature slammed the door shut on our longstanding open-primary tradition. Republican legislators amended the code to allow a political party to require voters to declare party allegiance before they could put their hands on a ballot

Democrats in the Legislature argued against the change, pointing to the one-third of Idaho voters who consider themselves to be Independents, even though no such party officially exists in our state. Now voters will be publicly listed as one of three choices: Democrat, Republican or “unaffiliated.” (Unaffiliated sounds like extra, or unneeded, or unwanted or — worse yet — unwashed.)

Republican sponsors of the change maintained that this move was necessary to stop Democrats from crossing over to vote on the Republican ballot for the weakest candidates, and consequently giving a boost to Democratic candidates down the road in the general election.

While it’s no secret that some Idaho Democrats have regularly chosen to vote in Republican contested primary races, there is little reason to believe they have been voting for the weakest candidates. The more likely reason for choosing to vote a Republican ballot is a desire to vote for the most reasonable candidates. It’s the anti-wacko vote.

Voting for the least qualified candidate is a dangerous game of Russian roulette. That’s how the wackos slip in.

As everyone knows, Republicans far outnumber Democrats in red-state Idaho. The Democratic Party has chosen the option to open its primary to any and all voters — even Republicans. Welcoming and generous as that is, in Kootenai County all the contested races are on the Republican ballot.

All incumbent Republicans holding Kootenai County offices have challengers, as do most of the legislators. Democrats have recruited candidates for all of the legislative seats in Kootenai County. However, no Democrats have filed in any of the four races for county positions.

So in those four positions, the game will be over for Republican primary winners. They will have won and a majority of voters will be deprived of deciding who will be their elected county officials.

The independent or “unaffiliated” voters are the ones to be hurt the most from the closed primary. Independent voters are turned off by the rank partisanship in Congress and state legislatures. That independent person doesn’t particularly agree with either one of the major political parties. With no dog in the fight, the Independent may have a clearer view of the situation.

Democrats considering temporary conversion to Republicanism are going through some serious soul-searching. The list of registered Republicans will be public. Could one really hold their head high? Does one really want to endure the barrage of requests for money from every possible Republican candidate? The telephone calls? And how to explain to the children? Much less, face oneself in the mirror every morning?

But Dave Oliveria of the Spokesman-Review offered a way to vote in the Republican primary and keep your self-respect. Dave wrote recently that he plans to register Republican and then vote against all the incumbent legislators who voted for closing the primary.

Not such a bad idea.

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