The Idaho Republican Party is using the threat of crossover voting to encourage conservatives to vote in Tuesday’s primary election. In a message on its website, the state GOP said that groups of non-Republicans are planning to vote in Republican primaries.
“The Idaho Republican Party has been made aware of organized efforts by liberal interests to promote crossover voting to influence the outcome of our primary elections,” said Norm Semanko, the party chairman. “We must turn out our Republican voters to counter this wrong-headed plot and to reaffirm our core Republican principles.”
Idaho has an open primary, meaning it doesn’t require voters to identify with a political party, so there is nothing illegal about crossover voting, which is when a voter who usually sides with one party votes in another party’s primary. The Idaho GOP is suing the Idaho secretary of state to close Idaho’s primary elections, arguing that open primaries violate the party’s First Amendment freedom of association.
Jonathan Parker, the party’s executive director, identified several instances of people encouraging others to consider crossing over. One is from a newsletter from the Idaho Public Employees Association (IPEA), a membership organization for government workers. “They sent out a mailer to their membership instructing their members to crossover,” Parker told IdahoReporter.com.
The spring IPEA newsletter offered a strategy for voters in primary elections when only one party has contested elections. “Ask for the ballot for whichever party has a contested primary when you vote on May 25,” the newsletter said. “Vote for the person you think would be best of the primary contenders in that party just in case that person is elected in the fall.” The newsletter article also said that Idaho is dominated by one party, though it did not explicitly say it was the Republican Party. The article also said that people who lean toward a Democratic candidate in the general election could vote for a Republican candidate that most closely represents their views.
IPEA Executive Director Donna Yule would not discuss the newsletter with IdahoReporter.com, though she posted on IPEA’s blog that the group promoted a legitimate practice. “What they think of as crossover voting is when you vote in the primary of the other party (the one you don't like) in order to sabotage an election,” she said. “That's not what we were advocating. But even if we were, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. IPEA was encouraging ‘strategic’ voting.”
Yule tried to distinguish IPEA’s strategy from an action called “raiding,” when voters cross over to pick a candidate in the other party they see as likely to lose in a general election contest, when candidates must face a more moderate electorate. One famous example of raiding was talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” effort in 2008, designed to get voters in presidential primaries to cross over to the Democratic presidential primary and pick Hilary Clinton rather than eventual winner Barack Obama, because Limbaugh felt Clinton would be more likely to lose in the general election.
One of the IPEA’s rules for political action is that it will provide members with information, not voting instructions. The newsletter includes a link to its grades and questionnaires for state lawmakers, a practice similar to other membership organizations and political groups. Only one legislator, Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, received an “A” grade for voting favorably on issues for public employees. There are three contested Democratic primaries for legislative seats, including Stennett, who is running to replace her husband, former Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett.
Parker also said there have been e-mails encouraging voters of any party to vote on the Republican ballot for the Ada County commissioners race. He also has heard of efforts on Facebook discussing crossover voting. He said the newsletter and e-mail could be used as evidence in the party’s lawsuit against the secretary of state. A U.S. district judge ruled in September that the GOP must prove that crossover voting happens in Idaho, and that it affects Republican candidates and their message, according to The Spokesman-Review.
The Republican Party has hired a pollster who found that 40 percent of Democrats have crossed over to vote, according to Parker. “We’re very confident of where we stand with this lawsuit,” he said. Political science research has been skeptical about the effects of crossover voting and raiding primaries. A 2006 study showed that crossover voting ranged from 18 percent to 49 percent, with the high figure coming during a 1980 gubernatorial election in Wisconsin. However, that study found little evidence of raiding, saying that voters choose candidates whose views they agree with. Read the full study here. (pdf)