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McGrane: SOS office can’t enforce GOP voter affiliation deadline

by CLARK CORBIN / Idaho Capital Sun
| November 18, 2023 1:00 AM

Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane said Thursday that his office cannot enforce the Idaho Republican Party’s new party rule requiring voters to affiliate with the GOP by Dec. 30 in order to vote in the party’s upcoming primary election. 

Instead of enforcing political party rules, McGrane said his office is required to follow Idaho law, which sets the deadline for changing party affiliation at 67 days before the primary election, the same day as the candidate filing deadline. That means the deadline to change party affiliation in Idaho will fall on March 15, not Dec. 30 as Idaho Republican Party officials set forth in a new party rule passed in June. Unaffiliated voters and unregistered voters will still be able to register to vote and affiliate with a political party at the polls when they show up to vote. 

McGrane outlined his position in a letter he sent Thursday to Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon.

“We merely assert that the executive branch cannot act on these rules without legislative action,” McGrane wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun. “As a former member of the Idaho Legislature, I am sure that you agree that the decision of whether a change to our election law is warranted is a decision best left to the Legislature since they were elected by the people of Idaho to make those decisions.”

The issue relates to Idaho’s closed primary elections and affects the upcoming 2024 primary elections, scheduled for May 21. 

In the simplest terms, McGrane’s letter means that the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office will not be cutting off voter registration or party affiliation changes next month on Dec. 30.

“After reviewing the law and consulting with the Attorney General’s Office, we have determined that your request is outside of my authority as secretary of state,” McGrane wrote in Thursday’s letter to Moon. “As an executive branch official, I am tasked with administering Idaho law as provided by the Idaho Legislature.”

Moon could not yet be reached for comment.

Where did the Idaho Republican Party voter affiliation rule come from?

The issue relates to a new party affiliation and primary election participation rule passed by the Idaho Republican Party during its 2023 summer meeting in Challis. 

The Idaho Republican Party rule intended to make two changes:

  • Any voter must affiliate with the Idaho Republican Party by Dec. 30 to vote in the next year’s Idaho Republican Party primary election. 
  • Any voter who changes their political party affiliation from a different political party to the Idaho Republican Party must wait one year after Dec. 30 in the year they unaffiliated from their old political party to affiliate with the Idaho Republican Party.

On Oct. 30, Moon wrote a letter to McGrane asking him to provide guidance and assistance to all 44 Idaho counties to ensure enforcement and compliance with the new Idaho Republican Party rules for voter affiliation. 

“Upholding the party’s rules regarding affiliation is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the electoral process and ensuring that the rights of party members are respected and protected,” Moon wrote on Oct. 30.

In her letter, Moon cited the 2011 ruling in Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa, which Moon incorrectly referred to as a ruling by the Idaho Supreme Court.

In Thursday’s letter,  McGrane said the Idaho Legislature already complied with the ruling from Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa by passing House Bill 351 in 2011. McGrane also pointed out Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa was tried in Idaho’s Federal District Court and the ruling came from Judge B. Lynn Winmill, not the Idaho Supreme Court.