Montana GOP looks at only letting registered Republicans vote in primary

2014-06-17T18:55:00Z 2014-06-21T10:24:04Z Montana GOP looks at only letting registered Republicans vote in primaryBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — Delegates to the Montana Republican Party convention in Billings this weekend will take up a resolution that would allow only registered Republicans to vote in future GOP primary elections.

The resolution also urges the party to authorize a lawsuit “to vindicate its First Amendment rights to have Republican candidates selected by Republican voters.”

The effort comes as some Republicans contend that Democratic voters crossed over in the June 3 primary election and influenced the outcome of some Republican races.

Matthew Monforton, a Bozeman attorney who is running for the state House, is the author of the resolution.

“It’s to encourage the Republican Party to vindicate its First Amendment rights (to assemble) and shut out Democrats and Montana’s liberal establishment from manipulating the party’s internal processes,” he said. “Democrats have no right to interfere with the selection of our party’s candidates any more than we have the right to interfere in the selection of their candidates.”

Monforton equated it to Ford Motor Co. not allowing Toyota shareholders to participate in the selection of Ford’s board of directors because “obviously, Toyota shareholders don’t have Ford’s best interests in mind.”

He said he hopes the Montana Republican Party can follow the same legal course that its counterpart in Idaho successfully did a few years ago.

In 2011, the chief U.S. district judge in Idaho ruled in the Republican Party’s favor that an open primary interferes with its right to freely assemble. The Idaho Legislature passed a law giving the two parties the right to have an open or closed primary.

Idaho Republicans chose a closed primary, in which only registered Republicans are eligible to vote in that primary, Monforton said. Democrats kept with an open primary, in which anyone, regardless of party, may cast a vote in their primary.

Montana also has open primaries. Voters are handed a Democratic and a Republican ballot. They vote the ballot of one party and discard the other party’s ballot. The Legislature has rejected past attempts to switch to closed primaries.

Monforton said he can’t predict the outcome of his resolution, but said he has had 2,600 hits on his campaign Facebook page after posting the resolution, compared with his previous peak of 750.

State Republican Chairman Will Deschamps of Missoula called Monforton’s proposal an interesting concept.

“There are some pros and cons,” Deschamps said. “In my opinion, the pros may outweigh the cons right now. I would like to leave it up to our legislators to make the initial decision.”

Former Republican Chairman Ken Miller of Laurel had sent out an email supporting the idea. He also would like to require a run-off election after the primary if the Republican nominee doesn’t get at least 50 percent.

Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, blasted Monforton’s idea.

“First, it was a candidate purity test,” Cook said. “Now it’s a voter purity test. Where does it stop? In my mind, this is the ultimate in hubris. Mr. Voter, please present yourself to your local central committee and we’ll decide if you’ll be allowed to vote Republican.”

He added, “Any time an ideology fails, you have a rush to change the rules to preserve the former power structure. I think they’re scared to death their message doesn’t resonate.”

Monforton said there had been “a tremendous amount of overt manipulations” in the primaries that “came to a head with arrogant claims by the Democrats and the teacher’s union about how they had manipulated the election.”

MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver disputed Monforton’s charges.

“We did not manipulate the election, nor did we claim we manipulated the election,” Feaver said. “We engaged in about 24 Democratic and Republican contested primaries, and we urged our members to vote for the candidates we had endorsed.”

Eighteen of the union-endorsed candidates won — nine Republicans and nine Democrats, Feaver said.

Contrary to those who think all MEA-MFT members are Democrats, he said surveys of members show the union mirrors Montana, with Democratic, Republican and independent members.

“We do know some Democratic members of ours, and Democrats speak loudly, chose to take the Republican ballot,” Feaver said. “That’s not literally crossing over. It’s an open primary.”

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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