HELENA — A conservative Republican who sponsored a successful resolution to close primary elections to nonparty members during last week's convention wants a federal lawsuit filed immediately to get the process underway.
But party leaders said this week they have no timeline and haven't decided how they'll proceed.
That isn't sitting well with resolution sponsor and House District 69 candidate Matthew Monforton. He said moderate party leaders are stalling because closed primaries threaten their chances for election.
"The GOP leadership has no intention of following through," Monforton said. "They've chosen their own interests over the call of their party."
Montana Republican Party Executive Director Bowen Greenwood said party leaders are looking at options to close primaries. But he said the party is focused on the Nov. 4 general election and he wouldn't recommend any action before then.
"Everybody's entitled to their opinion," Greenwood said. "The majority is concerned with electing candidates, and that's what we're working on right now."
Monforton pointed to Idaho's Republican Party as an example where the change was made through a federal lawsuit in 2011. As an attorney, he thinks the party in Montana would be successful in a similar lawsuit. The changes could also be approved by the Montana Legislature, but Monforton sees little chance for success there.
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"The Legislature has previously shot down closed-primary bills," he said. "And even if one passed in the next session, Gov. (Steve) Bullock would never sign it."
Conservatives have claimed there were indications that Democrats crossed over to vote for more moderate candidates in some Republican primaries. Most Republican incumbents prevailed in their primary contests despite a rift between conservative and moderate factions that spurred some intra-party challenges.
Twenty-four states have closed Republican primaries, and 19 states have closed Democratic primaries, according to the nonpartisan Maryland-based group FairVote.
Montana has never held closed primary elections, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said.
"I would certainly hate to lose the open primary in Montana," she said. "We have so many Independent voters, and people change parties back and forth. I think it would eliminate voter choice."
Monforton said he'll continue to insist that party leaders follow through on the resolution. "What I would like to see happen is what majority of delegates thought would happen — that we secure our primaries from crossover voters," he said.