Crossover voting: What is is and how it could impact the upcoming Republican primary

Posted at 1:32 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 17:11:31-05

BOISE, Idaho — If the Republican primary for governor comes down to two close candidates, some are hoping crossover voting by Democrats and Independents could sway the choice.

It's never been proven that crossover voting has impacted any race in Idaho — but it's never been proven not to. In the upcoming election, the idea is being pushed like never before by some prominent Idahoans. They want Democrats to crossover to prevent the GOP from electing an extreme, far-right candidate.

Judging by a recent poll by conservative news website Idaho Dispatch, Janice McGeachin is trailing Brad Little by 41 percentage points. And Little hasn't even announced yet. Ammon Bundy and Ed Humphries are even farther behind in the same poll. But, if one of them narrows the gap significantly by the primary, crossover voting might make a difference.

Matthew May, a senior research associate for the Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State, studies the issue.

"Looking at the field now, I'd say it's possible. Looking at the field. It could happen," said May. "It really depends on the specific election and the number of candidates involved in that particular election."

So far, there are six official Republican candidates spreading out the vote. Gov. Brad Little announcing reelection campaign would make seven.

Related: Ammon Bundy to run as Independent candidate in Republican Primary

"If you're a political junkie, this is one of the most exciting primaries we've had at least on the Republican side in years," GOP leader Tom Luna said.

But, if you believe a Democratic candidate is unlikely to succeed in Idaho, then people like former BSU President Bob Kustra urge you to crossover — or what's known as strategic voting.

"You can have sincere strategic voting where someone crosses over and votes for the person they think they can live with the most," said May.

But Luna said organized crossover voting is unethical and won't work.

"I just don't think there are that many Democrats that would sacrifice their votes and their ability to influence their own party nominees," Luna said. "But all that confidence might make you wonder why the Republican Party has done all it can to prevent crossover voting, including closing the primary ten years ago and floating legislation to make it harder for independents to cross over on primary day."

And even Luna admits, it definitely does go on.

"There's no doubt in my mind that people have tried to do things like this in the past," he says.

So, how effective is it? May said it's very hard to tell.

"There are not a lot of concrete examples where you can actually say it happened here, in part because it's a secret ballot."

But, if Kustra and others are successful in convincing crossover voters, Luna said there will definitely be evidence just ahead of the March 11 deadline to change parties.

"I'd like to take a victory lap and say we convinced all these Democrats to change their party at the last week" Luna said. "But realistically I don't think that's the case. The numbers will tell us."

If Democrats want to change affiliation to vote in the Republican primary, they have until March 11.

Republicans introduced legislation to require Independents who want to change affiliation to do so by March 11 as well. The original sponsors dropped it without saying why, but now it's back with new sponsors.

Idaho News 6 invited Bob Kustra to be a part of this story to explain why he is urging crossover voting, but he declined.