Serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis. © James Conner.


13 June 2014

Republicans unlikely to adopt Monforton ’s closed primary resolution

Matt Monforton

Updated (see note). Should Montana switch to primary elections closed to all but officially declared members of a political party? Republican legislative candidate Matt Monforton (Bozeman, HD-69, map) thinks so. Not pleased that Democratic crossover votes may have defeated tea partiers Scott Boulanger in SD-43 (map) and Mike Hebert in HD-11 (map), Monforton has drafted for next weekend’s Montana Republican Convention a resolution calling for closed primaries. If adopted, it would become part of the GOP’s platform.

In theory, a closed primary prevents crossover mischief and protects the right of a political party to choose its own candidates. In practice, a closed primary raises issues concerning the political privacy of individual voters.

I doubt Monforton’s closed primary resolution will be adopted, although the convention may well adopt a feel-good resolution denouncing those underhanded Democrats who had the temerity to cast legal crossover votes. There are three reasons why:

  1. Crossover voting seldom changes the outcome of an election. It raises the blood pressure of party loyalists, but it’s not a significant political problem as long as it changes outcomes rarely and on a local level.

  2. Voters like open primaries because of the choices they offer and because registering to vote does not require publicly declaring an affiliation with a political party. A state’s choice of an open primary is an indirect recognition of a right to privacy of political affiliation.

  3. Montana’s Republicans want a top two primary, probably on the California model, because it would have the practical effect of keeping third parties and independents off the general election ballot. Republican believe, with good cause, I think, that Jon Tester won both of his U.S. Senate elections, and that Steve Bullock his gubernatorial election, with pluralities because Libertarian candidates diverted votes from Republicans Conrad Burns, Dennis Rehberg, and Rick Hill. In the 2013 legislature, a bill (HB-36) for a Louisiana style top two “jungle” primary failed in committee, but a bill (SB-408) putting a California style top two referendum on the 2014 general election ballot passed (it was kicked off the ballot by the Montana Supreme Court due to a defective title). An instant runoff election (link 1, link 2), incidentally, eliminates the alleged “need” for a top two primary.

Monforton also proposes that the Montana Republican Party file a lawsuit “…to vindicate its First Amendment right to have Republican candidates selected by Republican voters.” If the GOP still wants a top two primary, and I believe it does, it won't approve such a lawsuit. And my legal sources tell me that if such a lawsuit is filed, it’s odds of success are very low.

Note, 16 June 2014. Monforton, as might be expected, disagrees with my analysis, and has posted a rebuttal on his legislative campaign’s Facebook page.