Sunday, November 15, 2009

Is the Idaho GOP Still After a Closed Primary?

From Ballot Access News:
Idaho is an open primary state and has never had registration by party. On primary day, any Idaho voter is free to choose any party’s primary ballot. Last year, the Idaho Republican Party filed a federal lawsuit, to force the state to give it a closed primary. But on September 4, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that the lawsuit requires a trial to determine whether it is true that voters hostile to the Republican Party have been voting in its primary. The Republican Party then said it would soon reveal its plans on how to proceed.

However, the party has not met the informal deadlines for revealing its plans for the trial. The Judge has set a status conference for November 30 to get an updated version of the party’s plans.

This sets off a series of questions. Usually, the courts yield to the parties on free association grounds, but it really is interesting to see how much this differs from state to state. In Idaho, the state Republican Party is demanding that the state government -- also dominated by Republican elected officials -- close the state's primaries. As the party argues, open primaries, like the ones held in Idaho for nearly four decades, potentially allow voters from outside the party to influence Republican nominations which by extension negatively impacts the party's freedom of association.

Why not, indeed?

What's interesting is that the same argument has been made in courts regarding open primaries. This movement in the courts -- at least on this particular question -- began with the 1986 Tashjian case before the Supreme Court. At issue in that instance was the fact that the Republican Party of Connecticut wanted to open up its primaries -- not close them as in the Idaho case -- but was prevented from doing so because of a Connecticut law, on the books since the 1950s, that kept primaries closed.

What did the Court decide?

Well, the Court sided with the Connecticut GOP: the law violated the party's rights to free association; specifically the party's right to invite -- in this case independents -- to vote in its nominating contests.

But this is a moving target, isn't it? Some states like Idaho or California have gone in quite the opposite direction. Faced with open primaries, parties in both the Gem state and the Golden state claimed that their free association rights were being threatened by partisans (and non-partisans, for that matter) of the other party. That the parties were unable to determine who would participate in its nominations was something Antonin Scalia, in the 7-2 opinion of the Court in the California Democratic Party v. Jones case, found to be "both severe and unnecessary."

That brings up an interesting distinction -- and there are several, actually -- between the California case and the one in Idaho. In California, all the major parties sued to have the blanket primary law invalidated. In Idaho, however, it is just the dominant Republican state party that is attempting to tear down the open primary system. The Democratic Party in Idaho could almost be considered a minor party in the state. And they could care less about the law simply because no or very few Republicans are crossing over to vote in the Democratic primaries. To top it off, the Democrats have often eschewed the primary as a means allocating presidential delegates; instead opting for a closed caucus on the state party's dime.

This, however, raises the biggest problem for the Idaho Republican Party in this case: the burden of proof is one the Republican Party. Their argument is that independents and Democrats could have undue influence (read: a moderating influence) on Republican nominations in the state. Proponents of the current open primaries law have simply said, "Prove it." In other words, how have nominations been negatively impacted by the inclusion of Democrats and independents in the process?

That's where this Idaho case is currently. It's stuck with the Idaho Republican Party trying to determine the extent to which Democrats and independents have made Republican nominees any less Republican/conservative. If Idaho Republicans want a closed primary or a closed nomination process, they are either going to have to do what the Democrats have done at the presidential level (Though, truth be told, Democrats in Idaho use a caucus as a means of keeping out Republicans and limiting, through a caucus, who participates and decides how delegates are allocated. See Meinke, et al. (2006) for more.) or just deal with it.

For now, though, it doesn't look like this particular case is going anywhere.

Read more about the Idaho case here and here.

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Jack said...

How could you call the Democrats a minor party in Minnesota? They have half of the state's US House seats.

Never mind that Democrat Walt Minnick (ID-1) has a significantly more conservative voting record in the 111th House than Republican Mike Simpson(ID-2), or that the Democrats only control just over 1/4 of state House seats and 1/5 of state Senate seats. The Democrats are resurgent in Idaho.

Josh Putnam said...


Yeah, on this particular issue I've got to look at the partisan splits in the state legislature. But you're right: it's even in the House delegation even with Minnick's voting record. Walt's got to get reelected. He'll out-Republican the Republican.

Jack said...

I'm at a loss to explain why I said Minnesota. The only thing I can think of is that I was thinking about Minnick and that begins with the same four letters as Minnesota.

One further thing I'll say - in this era of ideologically polarized parties (in the 110th, 109th, and 108th House and the 110th and 109th senate, there was not a single Democrat to the right of the most liberal Republican, and the exceptions in the other years that site covers, Zell Miller and Jim Traficant, are only a few spots off on the list), it's quite a departure to see a Democrat rank squarely in the middle of the Republicans. Seriously, a Democrat more conservative than, Ted Poe, Steve Buyer, and the aforementioned Mike Simpson of Idaho? It's really saying something when you're a Democrat to the right of Idaho Republicans.

I can't get angry with Minnick over his voting record, as some other liberals are - he's better than Bill Sali. But whether his conservatism will get him reelected I have no idea.

Josh Putnam said...

He's got an up hill battle to say the least.

Robert said...

I can't imagine a more conservative Democrat than my Congressman -- Jim Marshall.

Josh Putnam said...

Minnick, Marshall and John Barrow are all going to be sweating it through 2010.

Though, I have to admit to being shocked at how wide the margin was in Barrow's 2008 reelection. It'll be tighter next year.

Robert said...

I suspect Marshall will get another pass if the economy picks back up. If not, he's dead meat.

Jack said...

From an outsider's perspective, Barrow's large victory makes a lot of sense. Conservative Democrat, D+1 district, high minority turnout in a 44% black district.

Josh Putnam said...

So Rob, Marshall is in trouble then? I don't think the economy will be back by election day.

Yeah, having been in Barrow's district briefly, I'm just conditioned to see it as close. I knew the African American population, but still. I think he'll be back to close elections next fall.

Robert said...

If the economy is not back by election time, the Democrats are going to need to worry a whole lot more than Marshall and Bower. My prediction, the unemployment rate will be under 10% in January and under 8% by August.

Josh Putnam said...

That's an aggressive forecast, Rob. If unemployment is at that level, the Democrats will be golden heading into next fall's election. That would be a major issue the GOP couldn't point to anymore.

I'm, dare I say, ignorant on the subject of unemployment numbers or future forecasts. Google, however, isn't. At least they seem to know where to look. The first forecast I came across, sees the figure peaking early next year and then trailing off somewhat thereafter.

...but only back to current levels.

Robert said...

Unemployment curves rarely plateau like your projection. They either usually climb or fall. I'll send you some plots I have been playing with.