Don’t just stand on the election sidelines

Have you ever missed the start of a much-anticipated sporting event and tuned in late, only to find, that by the time you tuned in, the game was a blowout win for one side or the other?  Even if it’s your team that is winning, it can be disappointing to miss out on all the spectacular plays and the drama that led to your team putting the game out of reach.

Today in Idaho politics, voters who only vote in general elections in November are experiencing much the same phenomenon. They are essentially showing up in the fourth quarter of a blowout game.  The contest is over.  In fact, the real game happened months ago, in what has become known as Idaho’s closed Republican primary.

This wasn’t always so, but Idahoans need to adapt to this shifting landscape if they want to have a say in who is elected to represent us at all levels of government.

In 2011, Idaho law was changed to require party registration in order to vote in the Republican primary.  This never used to be the case.  Before this, anyone could walk into the polling place for the primary election and request a Republican ballot.  There was no requirement to file any paperwork to declare one’s party in order to request a Republican ballot.

We won’t rehash the arguments that led to this change in the law.  However, there have been some effects that are undeniable.  Ever since the change took effect, voter participation in the Republican primary has steadily decreased.  In the 2010 primary, 13,857 Republicans voted in Kootenai County.  In 2012, the first year of the closed primary, 13,042 Republicans voted.  In the 2014 primary, that number slipped even further, as only 12,534 Republicans registered and voted.

Even though Kootenai County’s population has undoubtedly grown since 2010, fewer and fewer people are going through the step of registering and participating in the Republican primary every two years.  We encourage you to help turn this around.  We understand that many Idahoans are reluctant to publicly declare a party affiliation (also known as “party registration”), and some simply refuse, even though they may have supported Republican candidates all their lives.

We understand this philosophical unwillingness to be forced to register with a party.  It is a tough pill to swallow, and we opposed putting this requirement into law in the first place.  But the reality is that it’s here for now, and if you refuse to register as a Republican, you are consigning yourself to sit out the game until it is decided.  The truly competitive races usually take place during the Republican primary, and if you want your voice to be heard through your vote, you need to look in the mirror and decide whether it is more important to you to remain independent, voiceless, and frustrated, or affiliated and empowered.  The future of our county and our state depends on your decision.

As you consider our argument, we have one more thought we hope you will consider.  For 2016, Idaho Republicans have changed the format of their presidential balloting process.  Instead of the widely-criticized presidential caucus system that was tried in 2012, Idaho will have a presidential primary.  That’s right – on March 8, Idaho Republicans can come to the polls to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice.  However, you cannot do so unless you are a registered Republican!

Voters currently unaffiliated with a party may change their party affiliation until February 12 in order to participate in the Republican presidential primary.  After that date, you can either affiliate by requesting an absentee ballot from your county clerk and declaring your affiliation on that form, or you can affiliate at the poll when you go to vote.  You can register to vote, declare your affiliation, or request an absentee ballot by visiting this website:

Then, on May 17, we will do it all over again, electing county, state and congressional candidates in the traditional primary most Idahoans are familiar with.

As Idaho moves steadily to the right, most races are decided in the spring, in the primary election.  If you choose not to register as a Republican and participate in that primary, you are making the choice to sit out the game until it is over.  Idaho’s future is too important for you to take a pass.  Get in the game!

By: Sandy Patano, My Turn,