The price of having built a party organization that bestrides a state's political landscape is that there will always be some fair-weather voters who will want to join up at the last minute. When they might actually have a chance to influence the path of their county, state and federal governments.
The Utah Republican Party has built such a colossus. But, judging by a legislative committee action taken Wednesday, it finds that its dominant club is not exclusive enough.
Right now, Utah law allows a registered voter who is not formally affiliated with any political party to show up on primary election day, like the one coming up Tuesday, join the Utah Republican Party, and cast a ballot.
Given that most districts are predominantly Republican, and that the November ballot so often includes either an unknown and underfunded Democrat, or no challenger at all, the primary is often the only game that matters. If voters want any part of that, they have to show up in June.
Unfortunately, the Legislature's Government Operations Interim Committee voted 7-3, mostly along party lines, to allow the state law mandating such an arrangement to expire in 2013. That won't have an impact on this month's primary. But, come the elections of 2014 and thereafter, Republicans will be able to circle their wagons and have their nominating decisions made only by those who thought to affiliate with the GOP at least 30 days before the primary balloting.
(Actually, unaffiliated voters can become Democrats on primary day, too. And because that provision is also in the party's own rules, a change in state law won't affect that. But it also isn't likely to make much difference around here.)
Republican leaders argue that the openness of the current system would allow a bunch of Democratic monkey-wrenchers to skew the results of their primary, nominating someone they like better or, more likely, throwing the nomination to a particularly weak and/or extreme candidate who might actually lose to a Democrat in November.
But, like so many of the arguments being made in the Republicans' nationwide voter suppression efforts, that fear holds no water. The Utahns most likely to take advantage of primary-day affiliation are the truly independent voters, those who don't wish to tie themselves to any party or persuasion but who, because the political power base in Utah is so one-sided, want to have a chance to weigh in on elections when their vote will really count.
The full Legislature should reverse the committee's vote, and restore the primary-day affiliation law. It's a little small-d democracy in this capital-R Republican state.