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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Debate on Idaho's Open Primary System

Keith Roark, chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, wrote an opinion piece, "Idahoans Deserve Primary Election Freedom." He lambasted Idaho Republicans for their efforts to gain the right to close GOP primaries. Here's my reponse to this column.

In 1986, the U. S. Supreme Court gave political parties the right to invite independents to vote in their primaries. This is up to each party; the state has no say-so in the matter. Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut

In 1995, a federal appeals court ruled that, when the state requires parties to hold primaries, the state must pay the costs of those primaries. (Republican Party v. Faulkner County, Arkansas) If left to their own devices, the parties would be very unlikely to hold primaries, due to the expense. Since the voters are accustomed to primaries, the state will continue to mandate them.

If (1) an independent voter wishes to vote in a party's primary, and (2) that party does not invite independents into its primaries, then that voter should simply re-register with that party. The voter can always switch back to independent status after the primary.

The role of the courts is merely to decide the constitutionality of Idaho's open primary law. If the law is struck down, each party will then be free to decide who votes in its primaries. Unless state law forbids it, a party will even be able to invite members of opposing parties to vote in its primaries.

My take on all of this is HERE.


Several comments followed mine. Here's my response to them.

A state law prohibiting parties from inviting independents into their primaries would be unconstitutional, as it would violate the U. S. Supreme Court's (SCOTUS's) 1986 Tashjian ruling. Furthermore, in 2007, a federal district court held that Arizona could not force the Libertarians to let independents vote in their primaries (Arizona Libertarian Party v. Brewer). Again, it's up to each party as to whether independents may vote in its primary.

What Mr. Riley calls a "semi-open" primary is actually a semi-closed primary: a party invites independents to vote in its primary.

Under the SCOTUS's ruling in an Oklahoma case, Clingman v. Beaver (2005), state law MAY prohibit parties from inviting members of opposing parties to vote in their primaries. When a state enacts such a law, each party then has the option of having a semi-closed primary or a closed primary. In the latter, of course, only party members may vote.

In at least 42 states, each primary voter's choice of party is publicly recorded.

The primary setups in two states are worth mentioning. In Utah, which registers voters by party, the Republicans invite independents into their primaries. But the Democrats invite ALL voters-- even registered Republicans-- to vote in Democratic primaries.

New Hampshire also registers voters by party. On primary day, an independent may vote in either the Democratic or the Republican primary by changing his registration at the polling place. On emerging from the voting booth, such a voter may either stick with his new party or switch back to independent status.


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