There's no reason to panic or even be upset -- yet -- over having to register a party affiliation in order to vote in next May's primary election.
As a practical matter, it won't have much effect, other than adding some extra paperwork for voters and additional headaches for poll workers, although it might reduce the turnout for the election a little.
The party affiliation requirement was pushed through the legislature this year by GOP leaders who were concerned that people who weren't Republicans were voting in their primary, possibly skewing the results from what "true" Republicans wanted. There isn't any evidence that "crossover" voting ever had any real impact on the elections, but the concern was there so the GOP-dominated legislature "closed" the primary.
In many cases, the Republican primary in Idaho, arguable the "reddest" state in the nation, was more important than the general election. The state's Democratic Party is so incompetent it can't get anybody elected, so whoever won the GOP primary in May was almost certainly going to get elected in November.
It's easy to vote in the GOP primary. Just fill out the card, in advance or at the polls, to register as a Republican. Come November, you can vote any way you want, and you can always change your affiliation.
The real danger lies in the next step. Rod Beck, the GOP party leader who pushed for the closed primary, now has a second arrow readied in his quiver to "purify" the party. At a Republican leadership meeting later this year, Beck will propose that the party go even further and allow the party leadership, at the state and county central committee level, to "vet" candidates, deciding who can and cannot appear on the GOP ballot. That's a change from the more open nominating petition system currently used.
But what it will almost certainly mean is a radical shift of candidates to the far right, away from the more moderate conservatives that we believe form the bulk of the Republican Party in Idaho.
The reason is simple. Most people would just as soon politics went away, that they could ignore how the sausage is made as much as possible. As a result, the average citizen doesn't run for precinct committeeman positions. Instead, and both parties suffer from this, you get the guys who are all fired up, far too often the radicals of both parties, running for the positions. Central committees are typically much further from the center than the average voter in their parties.
In Utah, a three-term Republican incumbent lost his chance to even appear on the ballot because of a similar rule adopted there, ousted by Tea Party Republicans. In Elmore County, the central committee detests, as "too liberal," state Sen. Tim Corder. By no stretch of the imagination is Corder, arguably our best legislator from this area, a liberal. He's clearly a conservative, just not as right wing as the central committee. There's no question that right now he'd be ruled ineligible to run on the Republican ballot if the central committee had its druthers. Given a choice, they'd back a Tea Party candidate.
And this central committee isn't all that unusual. At the last state GOP convention you had entire county central committees voting to eliminate public education in Idaho and to return the state to a gold standard. Those measures didn't pass, but they got far more votes than they should have.
There was even an effort in the legislature this year to try and repeal the Constitutional Amendment allowing direct election of federal senators, returning to the system where the legislature decided who would represent the state in Congress (our own Pete Nielsen advocated for that bill). That's because some members of the legislature think Sen. Mike Crapo isn't "pure" enough. Mike is probably our state's best representative to Congress, and is in a position by the next election to move into the rarified heights of the national power structure, giving Idaho a voice at the table of power. But he's a moderate conservative who doesn't always slavishly follow the party line. He actually thinks before he votes.
Closing the primary isn't a big deal. But if the GOP takes the next step, and starts vetting its candidates for "ideological purity," two things are going to happen. First, the party will not be able to grow and change with the times. Second, they'll start making moderate to slightly conservative Democrats an attractive alternative to increasingly radical Republican candidates.
The first step was OK. The second step would be a disaster to the Idaho GOP in the long run.