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This Election is Closed

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Rep. George Eskridge explains the new closed primary for the Republican party from A Seat in the House

The Idaho primary election is May 15 and I have been asked questions by several voters regarding the new primary election laws. There is some confusion on what changes have been made to our election laws. 

The 2011 Idaho legislature passed House Bill 351, which implemented a “closed primary” system. This means that voters who are not members of a party may not participate in the selection of that party’s nominees if the party requests a closed primary. 

The law does allow the parties the option of opening their primary elections to non-party members, i.e. unaffiliated voters and members of other parties if the party chairman notifies the Secretary of State six months prior to the primary.

Because Idaho has never required party registration prior to the 2011 legislation, there are about 742,000 registered voters who are not officially affiliated with any political party.

Voters can designate their party affiliation, or elect not to affiliate, by filling out a new registration card, filling out a party Affiliation Declaration Form, or they may declare a party at the polls when they go to vote at the May primary. A voter who chooses not to declare a party affiliation will be registered as an unaffiliated voter.

A voter can choose to change his or her affiliation anytime after the primary to another party or choose to become unaffiliated.

The Republican party has elected to close the Republican party primary for this year’s election, which means that only those who affiliate with the Republican party can vote the Republican ballot on May 15. The Democratic party, however, has decided to open its Democratic primary election to registered Democrats, members of other parties and unaffiliated voters.

Voters who choose not to affiliate with a party may vote in the Democratic primary election, or may vote the non-partisan ballot, which includes judicial offices, bond and levy elections, constitutional amendments and local measures.

The closed primary has created concern with many voters, especially with this primary, when many of the contested offices have only Republican candidates running, and will therefore only be listed on the Republican ballot. This means the election for those positions will actually be decided in the May primary. Unless one affiliates with the Republican party, the voter will not be able to vote for the candidate he or she supports in these elections. 

One example is the Bonner County District 3 county commissioner position. There are only three candidates running for election to this position and they are all on the Republican ballot. This means the District 3 commissioner position will be decided in the May primary by only those voting the Republican ballot. This is also true for the position of Boundary County District 1 and District 3 county commissioner positions. Republican candidates are the only ones campaigning for these positions and those elected to these positions will be decided in the May primary.

Many Idaho voters consider themselves as Independents, and although many have voted on the Republican ballot in past primaries, they are unwilling to officially identify themselves as Republicans. This means they will be denied the opportunity to vote the Republican ballot and support those candidates they would like to see elected to state and county positions.

There are also ramifications impacting other voters who do not feel comfortable in affiliating with a particular party. These include Judges, citizens who are appointed to state boards and other positions as independents, and employees of the news media.

These voters are in a non-partisan position, either by election, appointment or professional position, that would open them to a questioning of their non-partisan standing if they affiliated with a particular party. 

Because many of the voters in this situation will elect to not affiliate in the primary election because of the concern with losing their non-partisan status, they will in essence be disenfranchised in primary elections.

I believe this is an unintended consequence of the closed primary and would hope that in future primary elections we can find a way for these voters to participate without losing the non-partisan creditability of their position.

The decision by many of these voters to not participate in the election will impact voter turnout and result in a lower than normal number of voters participating in the primary, thus influencing the outcome of the primary and the candidates elected to various state and county offices.

The May 15 primary however, will be conducted as provided in the legislation and voters will have to decide whether or not to affiliate recognizing that some positions will be decided in the primary and not in the November general election. 

Our right to participate in the electoral process provides each one of us an important voice in influencing the direction of our government and the election of those who will be representing us. The legislation allowing parties to close or open their primaries has caused concern among many voters, but I would urge every voter to participate to the degree he or she feels comfortable given the complexities of this election and the potential impact on the outcome of the May 15 primary.

As always, I welcome your questions and comments on issues of importance to you. I can be reached by phone at (208) 265-0123, by email at [email protected] or by mail at P.O. Box 112, Dover, Idaho 83825.

Thanks for reading! George

George Eskridge, is the Idaho Representative for House District 1B. Reach him at 208-265-0123 or P.O. Box 112, Dover, ID 83825

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Rep. George Eskridge Rep. George Eskridge the Republican Representative for District 1 in Idaho’s House, George Eskridge can be reached at 208-265-0123 or write PO Box 112, Dover, ID 83825

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A Seat in the House, Republican, primary, closed primary

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