Stricter voter affiliation bill narrowly passes Idaho House - East Idaho News

Stricter voter affiliation bill narrowly passes Idaho House

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BOISE (AP) — A bill that would require unaffiliated voters to join a political party earlier in the year if they want to vote in the primary narrowly passed the Idaho House on Monday after lively debate.

The bill from Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, a Republican from Hayden, would require Idaho’s roughly 310,000 unaffiliated voters to join a political party before the candidate filing period closes if they want to vote in a closed primary election. If passed, it would go into effect immediately, which would mean unaffiliated voters would have until March 11 to join a party if they want to vote in the closed May 17 primary.

Current state law allows unaffiliated voters to make that decision at the polling place on Election Day.

Okuniewicz said the bill was a matter of fairness because it would even the rules for all voters when it comes to party registrations for the primary elections. People who moved to the state after the affiliation deadline but before the primary and first-time voters would still be able to choose their affiliation at the polls, he said.

But opponents on both sides of the aisle said some people are unaffiliated because they vote on the person, not the party, and the bill could block them from voting their conscience.

“First of all, I’m not afraid for the unaffiliated to join the Idaho Primary any more than I’m afraid an Optimist will join the Kiwanis,” Rep. Lance Clow joked, referencing the popular volunteer service-focused clubs.

Clow, a Republican from Twin Falls, said he feared the legislation could disenfranchise some of their right to vote.

Rep. Greg Chaney, a Republican from Caldwell, said the bill runs counter to what political parties should do, “which is get as big a base as possible.” He said someone could be prevented from voting in the primary simply because they forgot to “check a box” on their voter registration form.

But Rep. Ron Nate, a Republican from Rexburg, said the purpose of the primary election is for each party to choose its favored candidates for the general election. Primary elections, unlike general elections, are focused for affiliated voters, he said.

The bill passed on a 36-32 vote and now goes to the Senate.