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Where Do You Stand?

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There are more questions than answers about the Republican lawsuit against the Idaho Secretary of State's Office. First off, will the 70 people signed on to the suit have legal standing to sue?

On July 11, 71 activists and officers in the Idaho Republican Party filed a lawsuit arguing that Idaho's open primary system is unconstitutional. Since then, one member of the litigating group died.

But some officials in the Idaho Attorney General's Office, which will be defending the state against the suit if it goes to trial, are pondering the standing question. Although the Idaho Republican Party's central committee voted in June to approve the concept of a closed primary, the party itself is not attached to the lawsuit.

"The question of standing and who should be allowed to sue is certainly at the forefront of this case," said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, in an interview. "I'm sure that's what the attorney general will be pursuing."

At least one national elections expert, Richard Winger, editor of the online publication Ballot Access News, said in an e-mail to BW that the GOP suit "would be stronger if the Idaho Republican Party itself were a co-plaintiff."

Idaho Democrats have been quick to pounce on the issue, not least because they fear that the open primary system, which they say helps them draw Idaho's numerous independent voters, would be changed.

But even that outcome isn't certain, said Ysursa.

"I don't know how it will play out," Ysursa said.

The primary-closure move has been divisive, to say the least, among members of the Republican Party. With all of the statewide constitutional offices held by Republicans like Ysursa, the ownership of all Congressional seats, and with a solid majority in the Idaho Legislature, some of the party's leaders have publicly wondered just what is so broken that it needs fixing.

Idaho may be overwhelmed by a national trend toward closed primaries. More than 30 states have closed primaries of some form or another.

"The pendulum is certainly swinging toward a closed primary," Ysursa said. "That's foreign to us, but that's rather a common element in most states."

Likewise, Rep. Marv Hagedorn, a Meridian Republican, wrote on his blog recently that, "it's time to update our process like over 30 other states have done."

Ultimately, the ball may land in the Legislature's court. At the tail end of the 2007 session, a bill to change Idaho's primary system fell just short of approval. The measure, which had the support of Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Richard Stallings, as well as Rod Beck, the conservative activist now leading the GOP lawsuit, would have required voters to choose a party in order to to participate in the primary. Independents would have been allowed to vote in the primary of their choice.

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