The Trials and Tribulations of the One-Party State: the Dialectic of Ideological Extremism and Independent Moderatism

In the last month, district courts in Idaho and South Carolina have handed down rulings in Republican party lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of those states' respective open primary systems.  In both instances, the GOP made much the same case: open primaries violate their First Amendment right to free association since they allow voters who are not registered as Republicans to cast ballots in GOP primary election, also known as "cross-over voting."  Idaho's forty year-old open primary system was struck down as unconstitutional.  South Carolina's was upheld because the state allows alternative nominating methods, such as nomination by convention and nomination by petition.  Details on the two rulings can be found in this week's column at CAIVN.  Here, however, I wanted to emphasize a noteworthy passage from the ruling in the Idaho case in which the myth of the two-party system gives way to the reality of the one-party state.  In the case, ironically, it was expert testimony submitted by the defendant – Idaho's Secretary of State Ben Ysursa – that ultimately swayed the court. From the decision:
Defendant's own experts provide the Court with clear evidence of crossover voting.  Defendant's experts, Martin and Saunders, admit that "inside the Idaho open primary system, especially in a one-party state like Idaho where the Republican Party primaries are in most cases the 'only game in town,' voters do likely cross over; they have to in order to have any meaningful influence in elections and express their sincere preferences with regard to their own representation." . . . . Martin and Saunders note that Idaho is the most one-party state and least electorally competitive state in the United States. [Emphasis added.]
Steve Rankin writes at the Free Citizen blog that, "This is the first such case in which a party has presented empirical evidence that people not in sympathy with the party have been voting in its primaries."  The judge's opinion then goes on to lay out the state's political imbalance:
Republicans hold 28 seats in the Idaho State Senate, while Democrats hold only 7.  Of the 70 members of the House of Representatives, 57 are Republicans and only 13 are Democrats.  All statewide elected offices . . . . [are held by] Republicans.  Furthermore, since 1992, Idaho has had 35 legislative districts . . . totaling 105 seats. . . . Contested Republican primaries far outnumber contested Democratic primaries every year . . . Moreover, Republican candidates often run unopposed in the general election, making the primary that much more important.
In their testimony, Martin and Saunders estimated anywhere from 10%-30% of votes in GOP primaries are cross-over votes cast by Democrats, Independents and third party supporters, which could sway the outcome of a primary contest, and result in the nomination of a candidate who is not acceptable to the majority of Republican party voters.  The Secretary of State argued that closing Idaho's primary elections would therefore produce "more ideologically extreme candidates."  To which the judge responded:
At first blush, that would appear to be a strong argument for maintaining the status quo.  But, choosing ideologically extreme candidates is precisely what a political party is entitled to do in asserting its right of association under the First Amendment. [Emphasis added.]
Idaho's legislature is now moving toward the implementation of a system that would necessitate party registration in the state, and give parties the option of holding closed primary elections that would exclude Independents and members of other parties.  Mountain Home News writes:
Independents are going to be aced out and left with increasingly unacceptable choices in the general election. What's worse is the Democrats really can't offer up a viable alternative in the general election. The current Democratic Party in Idaho is a joke -- and a bad one at that.
Richard Winger suggests that this situation may result in the creation of a new moderate party in the state.  From Ballot Access News:
If the bill passes, it is not out of the question that Idaho voters who are not happy with this system will create a new party, perhaps named the Moderate Party. Rhode Island already has a ballot-qualified party named the Moderate Party, and Alaska once had a ballot-qualified Republican Moderate Party.
The lawsuit has already resulted in the creation of new Independent organizations in the state, such as the American Independent Movement, which intervened in the case.  From their mission statement:
THE INDEPENDENT MISSION is to open the political process to more Americans and select and elect Independent candidates to bring about structural political and government reform. In most parts of the Country  where Independents are not yet organized enough to select and elect Independent candidates we often support party candidates who more closely represent the interests of the people they are sworn to represent rather than the candidates who pander to and represent the extreme right or left of their respective parties and the special interests. Independents hold the view that the political process and our government should be controlled by the people not political Parties and special interests.


Samuel Wilson said...

I like the paradox according to which freedom of association requires the freedom to exclude, but the Idaho ruling seems fair to me. If it seems unfair to others, that just shows how thoroughly we identify the two major parties with the government. Some Americans probably assume that they have just as much right to vote in any party primary as they do in any general election, because they equate a party nomination with a public office. Most of us need to learn new ways of choosing candidates for ourselves, or relearn old ways.

d.eris said...

The ruling doesn't seem unfair to me either. But what does seem unfair is having a closed primary election that is funded by the public. If the GOP or the Democrats want to have a vote where only they're invited, they should pay for it themselves rather than doing it on the public's dime, and forcing everyone else to subsidize their internal affairs.

In South Carolina, the judge upheld the open primary system because other nomination methods are allowed by the state. The GOP there objected that those processes were not viable. But I suspect the GOP's problem is mainly that those processes would not be taxpayer funded (i.e. nomination by convention or petition). Just another round of political party panhandling.

Samuel Wilson said...

Point taken. It just goes to show that the parties themselves see themselves as public entities. Your idea of making them pay for their own primaries might clarify things a bit.

Randy Miller said...

If I pay for a car and let you drive it, it isn't your car. They speak of primary elections as if they are assets of the party. They aren't.