Idaho House narrowly passes bill to change unaffiliated voter deadline
Change would give voters less than three weeks to affiliate before upcoming primary
Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, debates against the bill on the House floor on Monday. (Screenshot, Idaho in Session)
The House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill that changes the deadline for unaffiliated voters in Idaho, a law that would take effect immediately if it is passed by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Brad Little.
House Bill 439 passed the House by a vote of 36-32, with 20 Republicans joining all 12 Democrats voting against it.
Under existing Idaho law, voters in the state’s four recognized political parties — Republican, Democrat, Constitution and Libertarian — who want to change their party affiliation or become unaffiliated can do so by filing a request with the respective county clerk office by the candidate filing deadline before a primary election.
Those who are already designated as unaffiliated voters can change their affiliation status to any of the four party categories any time, up to and including the day of the primary election.
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If the bill is signed into law, unaffiliated voters would be required to affiliate with a political party by the last date a candidate can declare for a partisan office before a primary election, which is March 11 in this election year.
Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, was one of the “no” votes, and said she’s heard from many constituents who are unaffiliated who are concerned about the bill. McCann said she thought the move would disenfranchise many voters, more than 300,000 of which are unaffiliated in Idaho.
“If you look at how many unaffiliated voters there are in the state of Idaho, I think that we were making a mistake to close the door that quickly,” McCann said during debate.
Based on when the bill would likely be signed into law, McCann pointed out that it would give voters about 18 days to affiliate in order to vote in the Republican primary, which is a closed primary that requires voters to be registered Republicans. It is the only closed primary in Idaho.
“We have to remember that approximately 310,00 people will have 18 days to know about this law, to understand what it says, and to choose their party if they choose to vote,” she said.
Another “no” vote came from Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, who was the sponsor of the original bill when it came before the House State Affairs Committee in January. The co-sponsor of the bill is Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, who is also running to be Idaho’s next secretary of state.
Troy, who originally sponsored the bill earlier this session, told the Idaho Capital Sun at the end of January that the bill was dead but did not elaborate on the reasons why she dropped it. Troy did not debate the bill on the floor.
The bill came back before the committee with a new sponsor, Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden, who said the law would ensure there was no “special treatment” for any single group of voters.
“I suspect that we might hear debate about how it’s going to make things harder for party hoppers to vote in a primary election, but I don’t believe that’s true,” Okuniewicz said on the floor. “If anyone wants to vote in a primary election in a political party they don’t align with, they can still do that. The only difference is that everyone who wants to do that has to change their affiliation by the same deadline as everyone else.”
The bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration.
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