Thursday, March 03, 2011

U.S. District Court decision rules Idaho's open primary system unconstitutional:

A huge blow to independents as a federal Judge in Idaho ruled that the 38 year old open primary system in Idaho was unconstitutional paving a victory for the GOP who filed suit two years ago. This ruling unfortunately forces 42 percent of Idaho voters who consider themselves independents to join a party if they want to vote in party primaries. The decision might affect other legislation if it is used as a precedent.

Jackie Salit, President of, issued this statement on the U.S. District Court decision ruling Idaho's open primary system unconstitutional:
"The decision of the U.S. District Court today is a deep disappointment to the independent voters whose political rights are now seriously impaired. The Republican Party asked the court to give it the right to redesign Idaho's electoral process and relegate independents to the "no man's land" of a closed primary system. The court gave them that right, in effect blurring the critical distinction between a public function, like elections, and the private interests of a political party. This is a dangerous precedent for our democracy. The entire process in the federal court reveals the conflicts inherent in this situation. First, the court allowed us, the independents, to be admitted as intervenors over the objections of the Republican Party, on the grounds that our interests deserved recognition and representation. But then the court negated those interests by allowing the Republican Party to run roughshod over them. We are in the process of assessing the decision and will decide what course to follow."

  • Judge (William L. Spence, Lewiston Morning Tribune, Election 2010/Meet the 112th) Several groups representing independent voters intervened in the lawsuit, hoping to maintain the open primary system. Jackie Salit, president of, said Winmill’s decision “is a deep disappointment to the independent voters whose political rights are now seriously impaired.”
  • Idaho’s open primary infringes on GOP, judge rules (Betsy Z. Russell, The Spokesman-Review) “An important corollary of the right to freely associate is a right not to associate,” wrote U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill in his decision. He found “clear evidence of crossover voting” in Idaho’s primaries. Idaho has never required its voters to register their party affiliation.
  • Judge says Idaho can't require open primaries (By Laura Zuckerman, WHTC Idaho) The state argued that the Idaho Republican Party failed to demonstrate damage from crossover voting and that closing primaries would interfere with Idaho's valued tradition of allowing voters to register on election day.
  • Court ruling pushes Idaho toward party registration primaries (By Brad Iverson-Long, Idaho Reporter) College of Idaho political economy professor Jasper LiCalzi said many Idahoans consider themselves independents, even if they typically side with one party. He said those voters wouldn’t want to be shut out of primary elections. “That’s not going to be all that popular,” LiCalzi said.
  • Idaho GOP open primary ruled unconstitutional (Associated Press, KIVI TV - Boise) The ruling ends a federal lawsuit that pitted Republican against Republican. In this case, the state party and its chairman Norm Semanko sued the Idaho Secretary of State, Republican Ben Ysursa, to dismantle the 38-year-old primary system.
  • Federal judge rules with Idaho GOP, declares party's open primary unconstitutional (TODD DVORAK Associated Press, The Republic - Columbus IN) The ruling by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill deals specifically with Republican primary elections and paves the way for the GOP controlled legislature to begin working on changing state law to change the rules for casting ballots in those early nominating contests.
  • Judge rules Idaho's open primary is unconstitutional (Lewiston Tribune) "This case presents the question whether the State of Idaho's use of an open primary system to determine nominees for the general election violates the Idaho Republican Party's First Amendment rights," Judge Winmill wrote...
  • Idaho’s open primary declared unconstitutional (Posted by Betsy, 19 comments included below, Spokesman Review/Eye On Boise) COMMENT - danofthecommunity: I know I would be very upset as an independent voter if I were expected to pay for countwide primary elections (which are big ticket items) for the parties but told, you must pay but you can’t play unless you join either the red or the blue team...


Idiotic Requirement said...

Ma'am, this is Mike Munger. I am a Duke professor, and was an expert witness for the plaintiff in this case.

Your statement of the implication of the decision is a bit odd, I think.

You say: "This unfortunately forces 42 percent of Idaho voters who consider themselves independents to join a party if they want to vote." If someone wants to vote in a PARTY PRIMARY, then they have to register. But they are free to stay independent and vote in general elections, nonpartisan elections for cities, bond referenda, and so on.

Given that turnout in primaries in Idaho is less than 25%, it's not like most independents were voting in primaries to begin with.

It is well established that parties are private organizations, and must be allowed to choose their own candidates. The state can't choose for them.

If you don't want to belong to a club, why do you think you should be able to choose the club president? It makes no sense. Especially when membership only costs registration.

48 other states have registration laws. And there are plenty of independents in all those states, happily voting and participating in politics.

Michael Munger, Dept of Political Science, Duke University,

Nancy Hanks said...

Michael, thanks for your comment. As you know, this case has to do with a fight over who's got the power -- the people or the parties. I do not support parties having power over who votes.