If you want to vote in the May 15 primary election, you’re going to have to give up some of your privacy to do it.
And for that, you can thank those sworn enemies of meddlesome government: the Idaho Republicans.
As you undoubtedly know by now, the Republicans went to court to win the right to keep you riffraff from crashing their private party primary. If you want to vote with the Republicans on May 15, you have to register with the party.
It doesn’t stop there, however. You don’t have to register with the Democrats to vote in their primary, the electoral cotillion to the GOP’s big dance. But if you do vote in the Democratic primary, that will be a matter of public record, reflected in the poll books.
That wrinkle in the rules hasn’t gone unnoticed by Wayne Hoffman — the head of the (beware of oncoming irony) Idaho Freedom Foundation. Hoffman was among the Republican activists who pushed for this members-only primary. Now, he has hinted that he might use the paper trail to track up reporters’ voting tendencies.
I know I’m not going to get any sympathy from some of you. Some might find it poetic justice to see journalists agonizing because of something public records might reveal about them. (And yes, I can see where there could be journalistic value in using the poll books to check up on a candidate who claims to be a lifelong Republican or a lifelong Democrat).
That’s my point, though. This rule opens the door to all kinds of snooping, and this doesn’t just pose a problem for reporters.
Anyone who works in nonpartisan city government — from the mayor and City Council on down — is subject to scrutiny. Same for anyone who works in the court system. Or on a university campus, in a public school or for a state agency.
And that doesn’t even take into account the largest voting bloc of all: those truly independent Idahoans who believe their politics are nobody else’s damned business. People who don’t want to share their partisan leanings with their neighbors, their fellow parishioners, their co-workers and their bosses.
Let me run through my options — because I think they help illustrate why this primary is problematic for so many Idahoans:
• Registering as a Republican and crashing the GOP primary has a certain jab-in-the-eye charm.
But here’s one catch: I think registering with a political party ought to mean something, and shouldn’t be done capriciously.
Unlike my old friend and Statesman co-worker Hoffman — who was involved in the GOP primary suit and once worked on the staff of Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Sali — I really am an independent. I 'm not a straight party ticket voter, and I’ve never registered with a party, even in my pre-newspaper days.
Now, party registration is out of the question. Aligning with a party invities skepticism from politicians and candidates, readers and viewers — so most journalists correctly avoid the practice.
• I could register as an independent, and vote in the Democratic primary. But, just like registering as a Republican, this vote becomes a matter of record.
• I could vote as an independent and vote only in the (uncontested) nonpartisan judicial elections. Yippee.
• Or I could stay home and not vote. After interviewing more than 60 candidates for spring endorsement editorials. And after, undoubtedly, writing one of those obligatory Election Day editorials urging you all to get out and exercise your right to vote. Seems a tad hypocritical.
Here’s the Statesman’s policy: “Newsroom employees are encouraged to participate in the democratic process, i.e. voting in the general election or other non-partisan elections. If they choose to participate in partisan political events, including closed primaries, and it creates an appearance of a conflict of interest, they may not be allowed to cover politics or government.”
That makes my decision easier, but no more palatable. I’ll vote in the judicial elections. I believe it’s important to vote where and when you can — and it’s one way, as one voter, that I can send the message that I cherish my right to vote.
So there you have it. A little less hunting for you, Wayne. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
I sympathize with my fellow journalists. But I share the frustration of every Idahoan who has seen their right to vote — and their right to privacy — compromised by their state’s prevailing political party.
If you’re angry about this mess of a May primary, don’t forget that you get to vote, in total privacy, in November. You also might want to remember who did this to you.