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Lawmakers eye change to closed Idaho presidential primaries

Posted at 12:18 PM, Jan 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-14 14:18:50-05

BOISE — New legislation introduced Tuesday would require Idaho voters who want to participate in a closed presidential primary to affiliate with that party 90 days before the primary.

The House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday voted to hold a hearing on the legislation.

Republicans close their primaries in Idaho while Democrats do not. Republicans are concerned some voters might affiliate with their party to throw a primary vote to a less popular candidate more likely to lose in the general election.

Non-presidential, closed primaries in Idaho already have a 60-day party affiliation deadline. The deadlines are based on the last day candidates can file to run for political office.

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said the attorney general’s office in a Dec. 5 letter said it had determined closed presidential primaries in Idaho have no such deadline.

The legislation has an emergency clause saying it will take effect immediately should it advance and be signed into law by Republican Gov. Brad Little. The Republican presidential primary in Idaho is scheduled for March 10.

Idaho lawmakers in 2011 approved a law restricting a voter to participating in only the primary election of the political party in which the voter is registered unless the party chose to allow unaffiliated voters or voters registered with another party to take part.

Republicans then chose to close their primary in Idaho, while Democrats didn’t.

“Back when the Republicans chose to close their primary, they thought there was mischief being done,” Denney, a Republican, said after the meeting.

Republicans hold all five statewide elected offices in Idaho, the four-person Congressional delegation is entirely Republican, and Republicans hold super-majorities in the Idaho House and Senate.