BOISE, Idaho — A GOP-backed bill, introduced Thursday, would create a new deadline for Idaho’s more than 300,000 unaffiliated voters to participate in closed Republican primary elections.
The proposal comes as political pundits have recently called for independents and Democrats to register as Republicans so they can vote in the 2022 GOP primary. The Idaho Republican Party hosts closed primary elections, meaning only registered Republicans can vote in primaries.
House Bill 439 — sponsored by state Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, a Genesee Republican — strikes current state law that allows unaffiliated voters to change their party affiliation up to the day of a primary election. Instead, unaffiliated voters would have the same deadline as partisan voters to register with a party prior to a primary.
This year, the deadline is March 11, more than two months before the May 17 election.
“Unaffiliated voters, if they choose to participate in a primary for the Democrats or Republicans, would have to change their party affiliation at the same time as the major parties in the state,” Troy told the House State Affairs Committee, which unanimously voted to introduce the bill without discussion Thursday.
While the bill would alter state code dealing with affiliation changes, parties dictate which voters can participate in their primary elections. The Idaho Democratic Party hosts open primaries, meaning all voters, regardless of their affiliation, can vote in them.
Republicans allow only registered Republicans to vote in their primary elections; that change came in 2011.
Nearly 309,000 Idaho voters are unaffiliated, according to data from the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office. That’s more than twice the number of registered Democrats.
In recent months, the Idaho 97 Project, an anti-extremism and anti-disinformation nonprofit, and people such as former Boise State University President Bob Kustra have called on independents and Democrats to register as Republicans and vote in the GOP primary.
“I know there are Idahoans who would not feel comfortable leaving the Democratic primary, and I respect that, but they might also think about where they can have the greatest impact on Idaho’s future,” Kustra wrote in the Idaho Statesman in September.