The Case for Open Primaries

On May 19th the people of District 3 will cast their votes for candidates in the 2020 Primary. While many will vote absentee, not all voters will have as many choices on their ballots. In fact, some will have very few choices or none. The reason for this is because while anyone can vote in the upcoming Democratic Primary, only those registered as Republican can vote in the Republican Primary. Both parties have the option to open or close their primaries in the state of Idaho and each party has their reasons for why they have decided to close or open their primaries. Ultimately, I think having an entirely open primary would help give us choices on both sides of the aisle that would better represent most constituents and encourage greater unity and bipartisanship, all while avoiding the extremes on both sides.

So, what’s the catch? The argument against open primaries is that giving every voter the opportunity to vote would dilute the party, there is a constitutional issue with enacting an open primary because of this:

“As a result of a federal court decision in Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa, the 2011 Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 351 implementing a closed primary system. Persons who are not members of a party may not participate in the selection of that party’s nominees.” (1)

So there is a constitutional issue in making all primaries open, BUT the parties can choose to open their primaries if they chose to do so:

"However, Idaho law does allow the political parties the option of opening their primary elections to “unaffiliated” voters and members of other political parties if they so choose. The party chairman must notify the Secretary of State 6 months prior to the primary if the party intends to open it's primary election to those outside the party." (1)

So each party has the right to open or close their primary. It's definitely a valid concern to worry about diluting one's party, but choosing to close a primary in Idaho does not solve this issue. People are free to affiliate with any party they wish to, and Idahoans can bounce between any affiliation and we do have voters who will switch their party affiliation because they do not have candidates running in their party’s primary.

Let’s look at the Kootenai County Sheriff’s race and the Commissioner’s race. Every candidate running for Commissioner and Sherriff are on the Republican Ballot. There are no candidates running from any other party. As of April 6th, there are 44% of Voters in District 3 that will not have any choice in who gets elected as Commissioner or Sheriff (3), even though these elected officials will have a direct impact in our community, 44% of voters have no say. This encourages folks to register for a party that they do not align with, and thus they are diluting said party. If both parties opted into opening their primaries, voters would not feel the need to bounce between parties. This would give us accurate data on where voters truly land on the political spectrum.

Now let’s look at a Republican voter in a Democratic Stronghold such as in Boise, this Republican voter does have the option to vote in the Democratic Primary. While the Presidential Primary was semi-open, only allowing Democrats and unaffiliated to vote, the upcoming May 19th Primary is completely open:

Per the Idaho Democratic Party’s Website “Any registered voter of any party in Idaho will be able to vote absentee for US Senate, Congressional Legislative, County and Precinct Captain candidates” (2)

This Republican has no need to switch their party and affiliate with a group that they don’t truly align with. This Republican is preserving their party, not diluting it, and clearly showing their representatives where their constituents stand. While the Republican Primary is closed, the Democratic Primary is open, and allows voters the option to have their say in who represents them. This allows the Republican voter to have his input even in a Democratic Stronghold. This input and this voter’s choices are vital in helping elect a representative that will be more concerned with the views and values of all constituents, not just the simple majority, but all voters. This gives us a check on the extremes we see in our political parties and helps bring legislators to Boise that better represent their constituents.

Now let’s take a closer look at voters in District 3. We can see from current registered voters (3) that Republicans do hold a majority at 56%, now how many of those voters have only registered as Republican to vote in the upcoming primary is uncertain at this point, but I do know people that are opting to switch to Republican to vote in the primary, so this practice is occurring. Now that leaves 44% of voters that are not registered as Republican. Constitutionalist make up .5%, Libertarians make up 1%, Democrats make up 11% and Unaffiliated voters in District 3 make up a whopping 31% of voters. This shows that there are many voters that have varying political values and ideologies that do not align with any major political party. Their voices and their votes should and ought to matter. Some of these voters are conservative, some are moderate, some are progressive, and some are a mix depending on the issue. Many of these voters probably do not align with the extremes from either side and want to see greater bipartisanship and common-sense solutions to the problems we face in our community and our state. Having open primaries would help us avoid those extremes and offer better representation for all voters. If we want to truly elect officials that will represent the people, we must consider having open primaries.

The question remains for all of us whether we are more concerned with the will of a political party or the will of the people. While each party has the right to close their primaries, I believe that having each party open their primaries would allow for stronger party purity because registered voters would not switch parties to vote in closed elections, offer more voters the opportunity to have their say, and bring a better balance by avoiding extremes in both parties that do not represent the majority of Idahoans.

“Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” Abraham Lincoln

Therefore, let’s leave our elections up to the people of Idaho. All the people. Open primaries would accomplish this.

Christopher Matthews Candidate for Idaho State House of Representatives, District 3 Seat A.


  1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 4, 2020, from
  2. What You Need to Know: Primaries. (n.d.). Retrieved May 4, 2020, from
  3. (n.d.). Retrieved May 4, 2020, from

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