Voting is a public act, much like owning a house, getting a driver’s license, registering a car or even getting married.
Where and when you voted — or not — is a matter of public record. Anybody can look it up. That’s the way it should be. It’s a safeguard against voter fraud.
How you vote, however, should be a matter between you and your conscience.
It’s not — at least not in Idaho’s primary elections.
Increasingly, that invasion of your privacy is becoming a matter of political warfare. The latest example comes courtesy of the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s political arm, Idaho Freedom Action.
But don’t blame the Freedom Foundation or even its president, Wayne Hoffman. Were it not for the Idaho Republican Party, they wouldn’t have the opportunity.
It wasn’t always like this. For years, any qualified voter could participate in Idaho’s primary, select either the Democratic or Republican slate of races, and no one was the wiser. That’s known as an open primary.
But about a decade ago, GOP activists — several of whom could not win fair and square in an open primary — went to court, prevailed and closed their primary to anyone unwilling to formally “affiliate” with the GOP.
Publicly, they argued a closed primary would keep Democrats from crossing over into the GOP nomination fights.
Privately, however, many were after a list of voters who declared themselves to be card-carrying Republicans.
Of course, it’s always tempting to vote in the GOP primary. Because Idaho is a one-party state, the Republican primary becomes the state’s de facto election.
What about the judge who is supposed to maintain the appearance of impartiality? Does he register to vote as a Republican?
Does the government staffer who works closely with Republican and Democratic elected officials declare himself a member of one party over the other?
Then there’s the small business owner. Does he want to risk alienating customers by declaring himself affiliated with a political party?
If any of them thought the choice to technically join the Idaho Republican Party to vote in its primary was a mere formality, the Freedom Foundation disabused them of that notion.
Beginning in late March and continuing until last week, Freedom Action had been posting on its website a daily updated list of who requested an absentee ballot to vote in this year’s primary. The list, a public record provided by Secretary of State Lawerence Denney’s office, included each voter’s first, last and middle name, his street address, his mailing address, his party affiliation, when he received an absentee ballot in the mail and when he mailed it back
The law says this list can’t be used for any commercial purpose. But its application is more suited to political campaigns. Parties and candidates often access voter information in this manner.
What’s new is Freedom Action placing the records on a website — until the Idaho Statesman exposed the practice.
What the conservative organization was up to is anyone’s guess. Hoffman isn’t saying.
In any event, the political lobby became an equal opportunity offender — drawing fire from both sides of the political spectrum. It didn’t help that Denney’s office inadvertently included the addresses of people — such as victims of domestic violence — who are supposed to be protected from such disclosures.
But this is far from the first incident.
Last fall, Idaho Republican Party Chairman Raul Labrador offered to expose any candidate running for city office or school board in last fall’s nonpartisan election.
“I’m pleased to let you know that our party staff has researched the party affiliation of candidates running for city and school district races,” Labrador wrote in a fundraising letter. “They will gladly provide that to you. ... If you find this information provided to you valuable, consider making a small contribution to support funding the staff of your Idaho Republican Party. Every dollar greatly helps.”
What other source for that kind of information could there be than the record of who voted in a GOP primary election and who did not?
Even before that, in 2012, the Idaho Statesman found 10 prominent Democrats — among them former Senate Minority Leader Kermit Kiebert of Hope — who voted in the GOP primary. That proved embarrassing because each of them had been appointed to seats on state board and commissions that had been designated for members of Idaho’s minority political party.
If you don’t like it, you have this remedy: Force the Republican Party to reopen its primary election. — M.T.