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Free Citizen

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

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Monday, February 02, 2009

Idaho Republicans Stick With Suit Vs. Open Primary Law

Since 1972, Idaho has had a primary election law similar to Mississippi's, which forces a political party holding a primary to let any registered voter participate in that primary. On Saturday, January 31, the state Republican Central Committee-- the party's governing body-- reaffirmed its support of the party's lawsuit challenging the primary law (Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa, 08-cv-165).

"That would mean voters would have to register as Republicans in order to vote for Republican candidates in the primary – excluding voters who aren’t a member of the party from voting in the Republican primary.

"This past summer, Republicans voted at the GOP state convention to maintain the 37-year-old open primary - but this latest decision overrides that."

The vote at the convention was 199-192 in favor of the current law, but the state central committee obviously has the final say-so.

Registering voters by party is certainly the most practical way to identify citizens' party preferences. But if (1) the Republicans ultimately succeed in having the law struck down, and (2) the legislature refuses to enact party registration, there is another way that the Republicans could block non-Republicans from GOP primaries. They could require voters requesting a Republican ballot on primary day to sign a statement declaring their affiliation with the Republican Party.

The Republicans have adopted a rule that only party members may vote in Republican primaries, which, to be sure, clashes with the state law.

"A federal court date is scheduled on the issue later this month.

The U. S. District Court in Boise is slated to hear oral argument on February 18. Notably, there are three separate motions for summary judgment in the case.

The Mississippi Democratic Party has challenged our state's open primary law, and U. S. district judge Allen Pepper ruled the law unconstitutional in June 2007. In May 2008, however, the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans dismissed the lawsuit on procedural grounds (Mississippi Democratic Party v. Barbour).

A local unit of the Virginia Republican Party also brought suit against that state's open primary law. In December 2007, the 4th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond held that, when the party is required to nominate by primary, the party decides who is eligible to vote in that primary (Miller v. Cunningham). That ruling was not appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

Sooner or later, a suit involving a state-mandated open primary will reach the Supreme Court, and when it does, I believe that the high court will strike down that law.

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