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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

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Which Party Do You Prefer?

The following are excerpts from my comments at Ballot Access News about the Idaho Republican Party's suit against the state-mandated open primary and related issues:

Party registration is the most practical way of identifying voters’ party preferences. The state compels parties to nominate by primary, so it’s reasonable for the state to register voters by party. This is often done to enable parties to block some voters from their primaries, but not always.

Iowa, Utah, and Alaska, for example, all have party registration. Both of Iowa’s major parties have open primaries.[1] In Utah, the Democrats have an open primary, and the Republicans invite independents into their primary. Alaska’s Democrats have joined the minor parties in listing their candidates on a single primary ballot, and ANY registered voter may participate. Independents are the only non-members who can vote in Alaska's Republican primary.

Assuming that the courts strike down the state-mandated open primary: Absent party registration, the Idaho Republicans-- and any other party--could require any voter requesting the party's primary ballot to sign an oath of affiliation at the polling place. This wouldn’t work, however, if a party wanted to let independents vote in its primary.

The Republicans– and/or any other party– could conduct a statewide poll to ask each voter his or her party preference. Or a party could invite registered voters to enroll as members at the party’s headquarters or by mail. But it would be much simpler– and far less expensive– for the state to simply add a “party preference” box to the voter registration form.

The state could adopt a system of party registration like the one that Rhode Island and Utah fairly recently implemented. All currently registered voters would be deemed to be independents, and the only ones who would need to re-register would be those who wanted to affiliate with a party.

The U. S. Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez Torres (2008) does not bode well for the state-mandated open primary: “A political party has a First Amendment right to limit its membership as it wishes and to choose a candidate-selection process that will in its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform.”

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{1} When a party has an open primary, ALL voters are eligible to participate. In Iowa, a registered Democrat who wants to vote in the Republican primary can change his registration at the polling place on primary day. The same is true of a registered Republican who wants to vote in the Democratic primary.

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