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Primaries Remain Open in Montana, For Now

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Montana Republican Party's request to allow a closed primary in June. (roibu/iStockphoto)
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Montana Republican Party's request to allow a closed primary in June. (roibu/iStockphoto)
March 25, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - Progressive voting advocates are praising this week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to keep Montana's Republican primary open, for now.

The state Republican party is suing to have a closed primary, in which only registered Republicans could vote.

Under current state law, anyone can vote in any party's primary without having to declare an affiliation.

On Wednesday, the high court rejected the request for an injunction that would have allowed the June primary to be closed while the litigation proceeds.

Rachel Huff-Doria, executive director of the nonprofit group Montana Forward, which works to motivate young voters, is pleased with the decision.

"Millennials are more likely than any other generation of voters to identify as independent or not adhere to either political party," she says. "So the Supreme Court ruling ensures that we will not be suppressing young people's participation in Montana's primary."

According to the website Ballotpedia, 21 states use open primaries for both parties, and five states use them for one party in presidential elections.

In its lawsuit, the GOP argues an open primary violates people's right to association, and risks the possibility that voters from an opposing party will try to elect a candidate they think is easier to beat.

Studies have shown that voter sabotage is rare, but they do show that open primaries tend to produce more centrist candidates.

Huff-Doria says the more open the system, the better off Montana will be.

"Open primaries allow more people to participate in the process," she says. "I can't really speak to either political party's intention in this, but I think the effect would be to keep certain people out."

The lawsuit will now seek to change the rules for the 2018 primaries.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - MT