Article 1, Section 19 of the Idaho Constitution boldly proclaims, “No power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere with or prevent the free and lawful exercise of the right of suffrage.” The right to vote is one of the most important tools we citizens have to shape the future of our state for ourselves and our children. All parents want a better life for their kids, but it won’t happen if we sit on our hands on election day.

Jim Jones

Jim Jones

Today, about 83% of eligible Idaho voters do not participate in our primary election. In a one-party state like Idaho, most elected public officials — governor, attorney general, secretary of state, members of the Legislature and many others — are chosen in the Republican primary. The May 17 Republican primary is where people must vote if they hope to influence the future of Idaho.

Why is it then that so few Idahoans vote in the GOP primary, leaving the selection of important public officials to a relatively small number of party loyalists, including a solid base of political extremists? Is it a lack of knowledge of the fact that almost every Idaho citizen of voting age can register and vote in the Republican primary through the close of the polls on May 17?

Seriously. Every registered voter, except those now registered with another party and felons whose rights have not been restored, can lawfully take part in the Republican primary. We think of those who have not selected a party as independents, but the state calls them “unaffiliated” voters. Idaho Code section 34-411A says an unaffiliated voter may select a political party affiliation on election day “by declaring such political party affiliation to the poll worker.” That is, independents can choose to vote in the Republican primary on election day. Don’t let anyone, even an election worker, tell you otherwise.

Unregistered persons can register for the Republican primary when they arrive at their voting location, which they can find through their county clerk or by going online to voteidaho.gov. They do have to provide proof of residence, such as a driver’s license.

This primary election may well decide the future course of the Gem State for many years to come. There are essentially two slates of candidates — one composed of reasonable, pragmatic community members dedicated to problem-solving government and another consumed by conspiracy theories, manufactured issues and confrontational tactics.

The problem-solving slate includes Gov. Little, Speaker Bedke, Attorney General Wasden, Phil McGrane, two reasonable school superintendent candidates and a supportive cast of responsible legislative candidates.

The disruptive slate includes Janice McGeachin, Priscilla Giddings, Raul Labrador, Dorothy Moon, Branden Durst and a cast of extremist legislative candidates, who have tried their best to make it harder to vote, proposed sending librarians to jail, tried to do away with the initiative and referendum, underfunded and made false allegations against public education and taken every opportunity to turn Idahoans against one another.

It is a stark choice, calling for all eligible voters to weigh in. The Republican primary election is more important to the fate of this state than this year’s November election. We are truly at a Benjamin Franklin moment in Idaho. When that revered gentleman walked out of Independence Hall in 1787, after having completed work on the U.S. Constitution, he was asked whether we had a republic or monarchy. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

We can only keep our reasonable, problem-solving government if everyone exercises their right to vote on May 17.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho attorney general (1983-1991) and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). He is currently a regular contributor to The Hill online news. He blogs at JJCommonTater

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