In 2011 the Idaho Republican party closed its Primary elections after the U.S. District Court made a decision relating to the primary system and the party’s First Amendment Rights.
In the case Idaho Republican Party vs. Ysursa, the party and its Chairman Norm Semanko, claimed that by holding an open primary, as ordered by Idaho Code 34-904, it violated the party’s Constitutional Rights according to the First Amendment. The District Court agreed with the party and found that their rights were being violated.
Prior to that ruling Idaho followed an open primary system in which anyone registered to vote could show up on election day and vote for whichever party they chose. The voter was not required to declare their affiliation and were able to make their decision on which party’s candidate they chose in the privacy of a voting booth.
After the ruling the Idaho Republican Party moved to a closed primary election. Now Idaho voters must affiliate with the party to vote in its primaries. However, a party can choose to open up its primaries by notifying Idaho’s Secretary of State six months prior to the election. This year the Idaho Constitutional Party has elected to do just that in the upcoming Presidential Primary on March 10th, adding over 300,000 possible unaffiliated, or independent, voters to their possible voting pool.
So why am I bringing all of this up when the changes took place almost ten years ago. Well because this is a year in which our state and local primaries on May 19, will play a large role in shaping the course of the next four years here in Elmore County, District 23 and Idaho as a whole. And I don’t really think all the voters out there realize just how significant the primaries are in a Republican dominated state and a very red county like Elmore.
Let’s use the local races as a perfect example, currently there are at least two people who are planning to run for Elmore County Sheriff, both of those gentleman will be running as Republicans (as is the case in most contested races in our area) therefore unless a Democrat, Constitutionalist, Libertarian (the three other recognized political parties in our state) or Independent decides to run against the winner of the May primary, the race is pretty much over and done this spring. There will be nothing to decide come November as the winner of the primary will run uncontested.
So I’m going to be straightforward right here and tell you I have disagreed with the closed primary system since it was implemented. I have always proudly declared myself as an Independent, I do not vote straight down a party ticket. I try to look at what issues affect me and then choose the candidate that best aligns with what is beneficial to me, my family and my community. I had absolutely no desire to affiliate with any party as a registered voter. I am proud to say, I have never not voted in an election since I turned 18 (I turned 18 less then a week after the Bush vs. Gore Election and was so annoyed I was not old enough to vote). The fact that in order to be able to vote for the local, regional and state races that matter to me requires that I become a registered Republican really, really frustrates me.
What also frustrates me is that not everyone in the public seems to be aware of how important the primaries are for these races. We’ve all had it pounded into our heads to get out and vote on the first Tuesday in November for our whole lives and a lot of people just assume that important matters like choosing a District Representative, a County Prosecutor or the Sheriff will be on their November ballot. In all actuality, it will, but unless a candidate from another party comes out of the woodwork there will likely only be one name to choose from on that ballot.
So how is this fixed, I don’t really have a clear idea on this, however, I can tell you that when it comes to County Officials: our Sheriff, Commissioners, Coroner, Prosecutor etc. maybe the answer is in changing how these offices are categorized. Municipal officials such as mayors and councilman do not run on a party ticket. Their positions are considered non-partisan and maybe therein lies the fix for this as well. I am a firm believer in the politicians who have the biggest impact on our daily lives are the ones closest to home. The decisions made by county officials are the ones that really affect our lifestyles so maybe they shouldn’t be chosen in a partisan matter. These officials represent everyone in the county day in and day out and maybe they shouldn’t be answering to the party with whom they are affiliated, but to the population as a whole.
Though I really feel very firmly in that being the right course for the local elections that does not answer how a citizen can have a say in this upcoming party season. Your only choice in matters like the upcoming Sheriff race is to choose to affiliate or change affiliations if you are already registered with one of the other parties.
Idaho Code allows an unaffiliated voter to choose an affiliation up through the day of voting in a primary. However, to change affiliations a person is required to sign a form with the County Clerk no later then the tenth Friday before the primary. For the state and local primaries in May there is still time for a registered Democrat, Constitutionalist or Libertarian to change affiliations and vote in the Idaho Republican’s close primary, but unfortunately this editorial informing you of this issue is a couple of Fridays too late for an affiliated voter to fill out a form and vote as a Republican for the Presidential Primary in March.
I know there are many independent voters out there that are as upset as me at the thought of having to affiliate with a party, but I do believe that the May Primary is too important to choose to just not vote and hope you will still have some sort of say come November. We are a deeply Republican area, traditionally most of our elections are decided in the spring between the Republican candidates with most seats being uncontested on the November ballot and we are left with the choice of filling in the little bubble beside the Republican Candidate’s name or coming up with some type of name to use as a write-in. I don’t personally know the numbers on a time where a write-in candidate has ever won an election, but I’d have to imagine they are few and far between.
I am writing this editorial in hopes that more people in our community become aware of this situation and are able to use the most important right we hold as American citizens, the right to vote. Our county and our livelihoods are too important to allow one political party or another make the decisions that will shape the next four years of life in Elmore County.