IDAHO — The 'Grand Old Party' has dominated Idaho politics for years. Republicans hold a super-majority in both legislative chambers and every statewide elected office. In such a red state, the GOP's closed primary elections have an outsized impact. Whoever gets the nod from Republican primary voters usually wins the General Election.
The state of Idaho has just under a million registered voters according to the Secretary of State’s Office and more than half are registered republicans.
The Idaho GOP holds closed primary elections which means only registered Republicans can vote in them. So, some unaffiliated voters and sometimes even Democrats choose to change their party affiliation to weigh in on the biggest races.
“This is a common action that a lot of voters take particularly in states, not just in Idaho, that are either very traditionally heavily very democratic, or very traditionally very republican,” assistant professor of political science in Boise State University's School of Public Service Charles Hunt said.
From February 25 through March 18, there were 9,599 registered voters who switched to the Republican party according to the Secretary of State’s office. Here is the breakdown:
Dem to REP = 3,273
UNA to REP = 6,173
LIB to REP = 89
CON to REP = 63
NULL to REP = 1
Plus, 314 voters switched to the Democratic party.
“Democrats might reasonably look at the landscape and say ‘look, the only way my vote is ever going to have an impact in this election, really tangibly, is if I can vote in the primary,'" Hunt said.
The biggest switch came from unaffiliated voters in Idaho.
“The numbers are actually consistent with what we’ve heard but surprising nonetheless. You've got to keep in mind there are 300,000 unaffiliated voters,” Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said. “Of those 300,000 unaffiliated voters, 6,173 unaffiliated voters changed to republicans between February 25th and March 18th.”
There wasn’t a huge change in party affiliation, despite a public push for Democrats to change.
“When you look at the primary votes and what the margins will be keeping in mind there are 9,600 folks in the Republican primary today that weren’t registered as republicans that are going to be a potentially significant number in some of these tighter primaries across the state,” Houck said.
With races potentially coming down to the wire, each vote counts, and in a state of Idaho's size, 9,000 new registered republicans can have an influence on who comes out on top.
“It's not out of the realm of possibility that those 9,000 votes if they go a particular way, do end up having a significant impact or at least making either a lot closer or a lot less close than if it was just left to those folks who were registered republican as of say last year,” Hunt said.
During the legislative session, Republican lawmakers tried to pass legislation on party affiliations for primary elections, but the bill stalled in Senate State Affairs.