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Idahoans should not be discouraged from exercising their lawful voting rights

Voting booths at Whittier Elementary in Boise on November 2, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Voting booths at Whittier Elementary in Boise on November 2, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

If the law specifically allows you to vote in an election, such as the May 17 GOP primary, there is no shame in following the law, writes guest columnist Jim Jones.

We often hear of folks who take advantage of tax breaks that some would view as unfair, but they can’t be faulted if the law specifically provides for the break. Or, say a government program provides a monetary grant or forgivable loan for pandemic relief. It is not dishonest to take the money if you qualify for funding under the law.

The same concept applies in a person’s exercise of the right to vote in an election. If the law specifically allows you to vote in an election, there is no shame in following the law. Yet, some hardline Republicans in Idaho claim independent voters have no right to vote in a Republican primary election. The fact is, they do have that right – it is specifically provided for under the law.

Extremists tried this last legislative session to make it harder for independents to vote in the GOP primary by taking away their right to register for the Republican primary between March 11 and May 17. That effort failed and rightly so. In a one-party state like Idaho, the primary is where officeholders are generally selected. If an independent were prevented from voting for the Republican candidate of their choice, they would have no voice in the electoral process.

And it isn’t as if the Republican Party was paying all the expenses to conduct their primary election. Every taxpayer in the state pays for the GOP primary, and everyone should have the right to vote in it.

I was recently invited for an interview on a radio talk show to discuss why independent voters like me should be able to cast my ballot in the GOP primary on May 17. I grew up in the Republican Party but decided to opt out when it was clear that the Bush administration was dead set on launching the disastrous war in Iraq. I’d volunteered to fight in Vietnam and knew that a war in Iraq was against America’s vital interests.

The interviewers asked why I thought I had the right to cast a vote in a GOP election when I was not a current member of the party. My answer was that I had volunteered to fight for my country and earned the right to vote in any party primary that the law allowed. Every other Idahoan should have that same right. Otherwise, about half of Idaho voters would be deprived of a voice in the electoral process.

Some of the most belligerent voices against independents voting in the GOP primary are the top brass in the Kootenai and Bonneville county GOP central committees – Brent Regan, Doyle Beck and Bryan Smith. They also happen to be board members of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. They regard the GOP as their private playground. However, the three understand the concept of taking advantage of benefits made available under the law. Even though they are dead set against government money being doled out, calling it socialism, they were happy enough to request and spend bunches of the dole money. Smith got $205,200 of pandemic relief funds for his medical debt collection operations, Beck scarfed up $168,200 and Regan pocketed $74,800. All told, IFF fat cats grabbed over $2 million in “socialist” largesse.

If the law permitted these payments, I don’t suppose we can begrudge these folks for taking advantage of the taxpayer money. On the other hand, it is rather hypocritical of them to get all worked up about independents registering in the Republican primary in order to have a meaningful voice in our government, since the law says it is their perfect right to do so.

This is an extremely important election. There are currently two branches of the Republican Party in Idaho – the traditional, pragmatic branch and the new branch composed of culture warriors and other extremists. Every Idahoan eligible to vote must take part in this election to choose the future course of the GOP in Idaho. Voters can register right up until they walk into the polling place on May 17.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.