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GOP, Democratic party leaders agree Idahoans should say ‘no’ to crossover voting in primary

Voters fill out their ballots at Whittier Elementary in Boise on Nov. 2, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Voters fill out their ballots at Whittier Elementary in Boise on Nov. 2, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

It’s not often when Ilana Rubel, one of Idaho’s leading Democrats, is on the same page with GOP chairman Tom Luna, writes guest columnist Chuck Malloy.

Lately, I have been hearing from Democrats who will do everything in their power to prevent Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and Rep. Pricilla Giddings from winning the top two Republican primary races.

They’re even talking about registering as Republicans and voting in the GOP primary election – taking their chances with Gov. Brad Little and House Speaker Scott Bedke in the lieutenant governor’s race.

But not all talk is coming from Democrats. There are a few “mainstream” Republicans who are encouraging their Democratic friends to crossover to the GOP primary – to keep McGeachin and Giddings out.

Tom Luna, Idaho’s Republican Party chairman, apparently has been hearing discussions about possible crossover voting. His message to Democrats is clear: Stay away from the Republican primary. And he has an ally in one of Idaho’s leading Democrats, House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel of Boise.

“I would tell every Democrat not to register as a Republican and vote in the Republican primary,” she says.

Luna says he normally would ignore threats of crossover voting, “but it appears that the mainstream media simply won’t let the story die. This is raising concerns amongst the rank-and-file Republican voters as to what the official position of the Idaho Republican Party is with regard to crossover voting in primary elections.”

Luna is crystal clear about his stance. Since 2012, the GOP primary has been for Republicans only – not Democrats, independents or those unaffiliated. Republicans voting in a Republican primary is about as “mainstream” as it gets, Luna says.

“Frankly, if you truly cared about the battle for the soul of the Republican Party, you wouldn’t advocate for non-Republicans to infiltrate our party and skew the results,” Luna says. “The fact is, you aren’t going to change the political landscape by pounding on a keyboard and spitting out op-eds or doing lay-up interviews with a complicit reporter. You have to get involved with the process. …That’s how elections are won. They aren’t won by gaming the system and encouraging others who don’t have the best interests of the Republican Party to muck around in our primaries.”

It’s not often when Rubel, one of Idaho’s leading Democrats, is on the same page with Luna. But she gives the chairman props on this one.

“Maybe we need to do a road show,” she joked.

Her take is that Democrats crossing over would hurt her party in the long run. “It would mean lower register numbers and harder to attract donors both nationally and locally. It would make it harder for candidates to run, and when they do run, they don’t know who the registered Democrats are and who they can call on Election Day to make sure they are voting. It would be a huge setback for Democrats to basically disappear from the public record and it makes it less likely that we will ever get a Democrat elected.”

In the end, she says, it makes little difference who is nominated on the Republican ticket – McGeachin would produce similar results as Little as governor; same with Bedke and Giddings in the lieutenant governor’s race.

“Democrats have to get out of this mentality they need to settle for the smallest crumbs,” Rubel said. “The differences between the candidates are exaggerated. At the end of the day, we still end up last in education regardless of who wins the primary. We still end up with someone who will happily take away our ballot initiative rights and someone who has no interest in property-tax relief.”

To Rubel, the solution is simple: Elect Democrats to the high offices.

“That’s what we need to do to fix what ails this state,” she says. “If we really want to stop being last in the nation on education funding, last with kids going to higher education, being at the bottom of the nation in wages, we need to get a Democrat elected and not just figure who is the least bad one on the Republican side.”

Luna, of course, will not agree with Rubel on any of those talking points. But they do make convincing cases for party followers to play by the rules in the next primary election.

Of course, Idaho voters – given their independent nature – will do as they wish.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.