In a hearing on a lawsuit to restrict Republican primary elections to party members only in Montana, a federal judge Thursday questioned whether non-Republican voters are actively crossing over to vote in and influence GOP legislative primaries here. “So, voters are going to give up their right to vote for the president, the U.S. Senate and congressional (candidates of their own party) … to vote to screw up the other guy’s legislative candidates?” asked U.S. District Judge Brian Morris. “You’re telling me that happens regularly?” Matthew Monforton, a lawyer representing numerous GOP central committees, told Morris it does happen – and that’s why Republicans should be allowed to close their primary elections to members only.
Monforton said Montana’s open primary – in which voters choose on election day which party primary they vote – violates Republican Party members’ right to association and choosing their own political standard-bearers.
Monforton also said having an open primary forces GOP candidates to appeal to the middle, rather than emphasizing where they stand on party positions, because they fear non-Republicans will vote against them in the primary. “Our candidates are being chilled by state law from advancing planks in our party platform,” he said. “That is unconstitutional.”
Yet a lawyer for the state said Republicans have no direct evidence to show that non-Republicans are influencing any GOP primary elections. Without such evidence, Montana’s open primary system cannot be found unconstitutional, said Assistant Attorney General Stuart Segrest.