BOISE — The bench trial began Wednesday for a federal civil case that’s pushing to close primary elections to independent voters.
Idaho has had an open primary system for 37 years, meaning that voters can choose to vote on any one party’s ballot. The trial’s outcome could change that, potentially setting a precedent that could force the state to close its primaries to voters who don’t identify themselves as a member of a political party.
The case also has implications beyond Idaho in about 20 states with similar open primary systems in place. That because the court’s future ruling can be cited elsewhere in other legal attempts to close primaries.
“It would have national ramifications,” said Harry Kresky, an attorney for IndependentVoting.org, an intervening party in the case that represents 11 independent voters in Idaho.
The case was filed in 2008 by the Idaho Republican Party against Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. GOP stalwarts contend that crossover Democrat or independent voters diminish the party’s role in selecting its candidates for the Nov. 2 elections.
In an interview, Kresky said that voting is a constitutional right and that there’s no democracy if the candidates are chosen by small groups in closed primaries prior to the general election.
Wednesday’s testimony began with Robert Moore, a pollster from Portland, Ore., who completed a survey of Idaho primary voters that’s part of an exhibit that the Idaho Republican Party filed in its court exhibits.
“Our methodology is proven to get us reliable results and that’s the reason we use it,” he said in his court testimony.
According to his survey, conducted on 400 voters in January, 39 percent of non-GOP voters said they had voted in a Republican primary for a state legislative candidate. Twelve percent of non-GOP voters said that they typically vote for Republicans in primary elections, according to court documents.
The testimony is needed because U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill turned down a motion for summary judgment and required the Idaho Republican Party to produce evidence that there is significant crossover voting in Idaho that has a negative impact on the party’s primary process.
The trial continues with more expert testimony today.
Ben Botkin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 735-3238.