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GOP eyes tighter primary restrictions

by KELCIE MOSELEY-MORRIS / Idaho Capital Sun
| December 21, 2022 1:00 AM

Idaho’s primary election is, essentially, the whole contest. With partisan divides that strongly favor Republican candidates, the majority of campaign spending happens in the months leading up to primary elections, and Democrats do not even run for office in many districts.

The Idaho GOP closed its primary process starting in 2012, so that only registered Republicans can vote for the candidate they want to advance to the general election — where Republicans dominate so heavily that a primary win often guarantees election to a seat.

That move shut out independent, third party or crossover Democratic voters.

The party will soon decide on further restrictions that would keep more voters from having a say in which Republican candidate will advance to almost-guaranteed general election wins.

The Idaho Republican Party’s state central committee will meet Jan. 6 and 7 to consider changes to the party rules, including some that were recommended by the convention delegates in July. While the convention is made up of about 750 delegates and party officials, the state central committee is a smaller group of 240 people.

According to the party’s bylaws, that group includes members of the state executive committee, county party chairs, state and state youth committee members and legislative district chairs.

The state central committee has its own rules committee, where the rule will be presented in January. If it passes, the full central committee will vote on whether to officially adopt it for the Idaho Republican Party.

Proposed rule allows local party leaders to decide who is a Republican

Delegates at the summer GOP convention approved sending a rule about crossover voting to the state central committee, by a vote of 403 to 265. The proposed rule was drafted by Branden Durst, a former Democratic legislator who joined the Republican Party in 2020 and ran unsuccessfully for superintendent of public instruction in this year’s Republican primary.

In July, Durst said Democrats want to “come into” the Republican Party to pick its “quarterback.”

Durst has said the party “must address its Democrat primary crossover problem.” He claimed tens of thousands of Democrats registered as Republicans to vote in the Republican primary, but Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said those numbers do not match the data reflected in voter rolls.

“This is an opportunity to nominate people to represent this party, which is the most sacred thing this party does,” Durst told the delegates in July.

The rule states that county and legislative district central committees can determine the political affiliation of people who file, or intend to file, as Republican candidates for any elected position in that county.

Legislative district central committees could determine the political affiliation of Republican candidates for the Legislature, and the state central committee could do the same for state political offices and U.S. federal offices, according to the rule. All three would also be allowed to endorse candidates.

Durst’s proposed rule also outlines how a voter can be disqualified from registering with the Idaho Republican Party, such as those who:

Affiliated less than 12 months before the next primary election held in an even-numbered year (so, a voter registering in June 2023 could not vote in the 2024 primary);

Disaffiliated with the Republican Party at any time in the previous 25 months;

Financially supported more than one candidate of a different political party for office, or financially supported a different political party, less than 25 months before the primary;

Affiliated with any other political party less than 25 months before the primary;

Voted in a primary or caucus for any other political party less than 25 months before the primary.

Since Durst registered as a Republican in 2020, he would not be disqualified under the proposed rule.

Bingham County GOP chair: Rule could cause voters to choose alternative parties

Dan Cravens, who has been chair of the Bingham County Republican Central Committee since 2013, said he thinks those supporting the rule are those who lost previous primaries, or their preferred candidates lost to other challengers.

“The logic here is that we are the true Republicans, we lost in the primary and it must be because there’s massive numbers of people who are not Republicans voting in the primary, therefore we need to redefine who can participate in the primary to a much narrower group so that the result they feel is the correct one occurs,” Cravens said.

The 2023 Rules Committee includes:

  • Brent Regan, chair
  • Stewart Hyndman, vice chair
  • Machele Hamilton, secretary
  • Luke Sommer, parliamentarian
  • Region 1: Hari Heath and Elena Wise
  • Region 2: Glen Baldwin and LeeAnne Callear
  • Region 3: Jordan Marques and Chris Boyd
  • Region 4: Kimberly Kaehler and Mark Johnson
  • Region 5: Grant Loebs and Paul Ross
  • Region 6: Austin Fisher and Terrel Tovey
  • Region 7: David Taylor and Jeff Siddoway

Cravens worries that if the rule is adopted, it will damage the Idaho Republican Party and cause voters to abandon the party, even in a state that is so deeply Republican.

“If you start making it hard to vote in our primary, you start making it exclusive, and if they’re successful in narrowing the ideological tone of the candidates to this libertarian philosophy, what will happen is voters will begin to look at alternatives,” Cravens said.

Concerned Republicans should reach out to Rules Committee, chair says

The state central committee will meet from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 6 and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City.

Cravens said he hopes people will contact members of the rule committee and their county chairs with their thoughts about the proposal leading up to the meeting.

“The more voters that hear about this and express their concern over it, which I feel there’s a great deal of folks who would and do, would diminish the chances of it passing,” he said.

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