Closed GOP primary is actually pretty open

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SANDPOINT — Voters who cast their ballots based on the quality of individual candidates instead of party affiliation need not fear Idaho’s closed Republican primary.

Only voters who declare their affiliation to the GOP will be issued Republican ballots in the May 15 primary election. But moral questions aside, there is nothing that prevents non-Republicans from simply declaring a GOP affiliation in order to vote in the Republican primary.

Moreover, there is nothing in Idaho Code which allows the GOP to challenge your declared affiliation if there are any doubts about your political persuasion.

A U.S. District judge ruled last year that Idaho’s 38-year-old system for holding open primaries was unconstitutional. The Republican party sued the state to close the primary to keep Democrats and others from crossing over and influencing GOP contests.

Idaho legislators adopted a law to close the Republican primary after the federal court ruling.

Since then, the question of who can vote for whom in the primary has loomed large among more moderate voters in Bonner County, a place where few Democratic candidates are fielded and contests are often determined in the primary.

Some voters feared their declared affiliation could be challenged by the GOP. But that fear is unfounded.

“There’s nothing in the code that allows for someone to challenge your affiliation,” said Betsie Kimbrough, the elections supervisor at the Idaho Secretary of State’s office. “The code is silent on it.”

Political party declaration forms are available at the elections office at the Bonner County Administration Building. They can also be downloaded from the secretary of state’s website (www.idahovotes.gov).

Voters can also fill out the form at their polling precinct when they vote, but county Clerk Marie Scott is recommending they submit them before the primary to cut down on lines on election day.

Scott’s office sent out party affiliation declaration forms to voters in the county’s three largest precincts — Washington, Kootenai and Edgemere — to try and prevent lines at the polls.

“Our response so far has been nominal,” said Scott.

About 1,300 of the forms were sent to voters in the Washington precinct, but only a quarter of them have been returned to the county. Nearly half of the 1,132 voters in Edgemere returned the forms.

Scott said 324 voters in Edgemere have affiliated themselves with the GOP, while 68 affiliated with the Democratic party and 89 declared no affiliation. Fourteen identified themselves as Constitution party supporters and four listed their affiliation as Libertarian.

Those who declare no party affiliation or anything other than GOP affiliation will not be granted a GOP ballot in the primary. Anybody, even declared Republicans, can vote in the Democrat primary because it remains open.

Some have used the forms to register their displeasure with having to declare their affiliation.

Scott, a Democrat, worries the closed GOP primary will have a chilling effect on voter turnout in the primary, an election which already lacks robust participation.

“In Bonner County, we are fiercely independent and private. Whatever our party affiliation is, people, for the most part, don’t think it’s anybody else’s business,” she said.

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Declaring your affiliation

Political party affiliation declaration forms are available in the clerk’s office at the Bonner County Administration Building. They can also be downloaded from www.idahovotes.gov. County officials are urging voters to make their declarations ahead of time to cut down on lines during the primary election.

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