ICYMI [editor: In case you missed it] the Montana Republican Party voted to close Montana’s Republican primary elections at the GOP state convention. While I sympathize with the frustrations behind this effort, closing the primaries is a bad idea because it would create more problems than it solves.
The timeline that led us to said bad proposal looks like this:
1. Huge MT GOP infighting between “conservatives” and “responsibles” spills over from the 2013 legislative session to the 2014 primary election.
2. Candidates on both sides of the “war” spend more time campaigning about why the other side is the devil incarnate than talking about solutions or explaining what they plan to accomplish in the 2015 session. Emotions run at a feverish, middle school drama level.
3. MEA-MFT sends out an email encouraging its members and supporters to back the “responsible” Republican in several races.
4. Some of the “conservatives” lose to the “responsibles” that MEA-MFT backed.
5. The “conservatives” vow to end “Democrat crossover” voting by closing Montana’s primaries to only allow registered Republicans to vote in Republican primary elections.
6. Delegates at the state convention vote to support that idea after a couple days of heavy lobbying at the convention by those most passionate about the issue.
If we look back at this timeline, it becomes clear that the root cause of the “conservatives’” election losses was intra-party wagon circling, not Democrat crossover. Sure, some crossover in a couple races might have ultimately decided those elections, but closing primaries does absolutely nothing to solve the root problem. Closing the primaries is a treatment for the symptom, not the disease.
The symptom treatment comes with a lot of negative side effects. The downsides of forcing Republican primary voters to register as Republicans include:
1. It violates voters’ privacy, which will come into play in the points below.
2. Making the party even more exclusive rather than inclusive, which is a step backward, not a step forward.
3. Pissing Montana voters off. A huge number of Montanans identify as Independents or some other extra-party label, and they will not be happy that they’re forced to choose between maintaining that sense of independence and being barred from voting for candidates they like.
4. Pissing young people off. Young people, perhaps more than other demographic today, hate being labeled at all, and especially hate being labeled under a political party banner. If the Republicans are the ones to close primaries, they will pay among young voters. I’m active in Montana Republican politics, and even I might not register.
5. Forcing certain professionals to choose between voting and giving up their nonpartisanship. MSU political scientist David Parker already said on Twitter that he’d probably not vote if primaries were closed, in order to avoid the perception of bias as he tries to be a neutral commentator. This same problem would apply to every single journalist in Montana that covers politics.
6. Forcing voters to choose between voting in their party’s primary elections and being discriminated against. It’s horribly ironic that the people who have been targeted by the IRS for their political affiliations are the same ones arguing to force people to self-identify their political beliefs. Ignoring the potential for state regulatory bodies to follow the in the corrupt footsteps of the IRS, party identification can have ramifications in the purely private sector as well. Take the example of a Republican business owner in Butte. I’ve been told by Butte Republican business owners that they keep their political beliefs “in the closet” (get it?) out of fear of being boycotted by the unions. Closing the primaries would force that business owner to choose between voting and suffering potentially fatal damage to their business interests.
There are more specific problems we could delve into, but the tl;dr version is:
Closing Montana Republican primaries would create more problems than it solves, and it is an emotional overreaction to a comparatively small problem. Crossover generally only occurs by a few dozen voters in a couple elections per cycle. In this case, the side effects of the symptom treatment are far worse than the symptom itself.
A while ago Don Pogreba (Pogie) asked on Twitter [editor: found at @dpogreba] what some of the so-called MT GOP Young Guns thought of the idea of closing Republican primary elections in Montana. Sorry it took so long to respond, Don, but hopefully this post answers your question. Although it was written by one individual, I know it speaks for several of us, because I’ve talked to many other young Republicans about it.