The Arizona GOP voted overwhelming at its annual state committee meeting in January for a resolution that could prompt a legal battle over its desire to close its primary elections—which have been open to independents since 1998 when Arizona voters amended the state constitution to allow independents to vote in Democratic or Republican primaries.

The resolution states that “Republicans should nominate Republication candidates without threat of outside interference” and asks the Legislature to replace the open primary with a closed one—an action that would require voter approval.

Independents in Arizona now surpass both the number of registered Democrats and Republicans, but their voter turnout numbers for the primary elections are low. In 2014 they were just 16.2 percent of those who voted in the Republican primary and 11.7 percent of those who participated in the Democratic primary.

However, conservative activists believe open primaries have an adverse impact on which candidates prevail in the primaries, with moderate Republicans edging out more conservative opponents in several districts in the last election.

Reverting back to a closed primary won’t be easy as it would require voter approval, but some supporters feel the Libertarian party’s success in a 2007 ruling by U.S. District Judge Raner Collins that said Arizona’s open primary violated the Libertarian Party’s First Amendment right to free association may be pivotal for a GOP success in its quest for closed primaries.

Joe Kanefield, an election attorney at Ballard Spahr and a former assistant attorney general who represented the state in the early days of the case, noted the Arizona Republican Party has a strong chance at being successful it if sues for a closed primary.

“It’s definitely a viable case, and the court has left the door open to bring a challenge like this,” Kanefield said. “The Supreme Court takes a very skeptical look at any law that infringes on anyone’s First Amendment rights.”

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