New coalition starts initiative to open Idaho’s primaries
TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —A community group coalition aims to give Idahoans the freedom to vote in open, nonpartisan primary elections. They recently filed a citizen ballot initiative seeking to fix Idaho’s election system to pave a pathway for quality candidates to get elected over extreme ones.
Todd Achilles of the Idaho Task Force of Veterans for Political Innovation said there was a time when people used to get elected by bringing people together. Still, now there is a system in place where people are getting elected by being extreme and divisive, and that has got to change.
“The [Idaho] state house is not working as well as it used to, and the reason for that is we have more elected fringe candidates that are able to use the closed primary to further their interests,” Achilles said.
In 2011, the Idaho Legislature passed a law closing Idaho’s Primary Elections. However, the law gave the leaders of political parties the option to keep their primaries open. Democrats did, and Republicans didn’t.
“You close the primary, which is already one-half to two--thirds fewer voters than you see in the general election. You got fewer voters in the primary. You close that to a smaller group. So a candidate simply does not need that many votes to win,” Achilles said.
Additionally, he said there is an effort further to restrict the number of voters in the primary. During this legislative session, a slate of bills was introduced to limit voting even more. Lawmakers were successful in passing a law to eliminate student identification cards as being used as a valid form of ID.
“The [Idaho] Republican Party has talked about prohibiting anyone who hasn’t been registered for more than a year from participating in a Republican Primary. That carves out another chunk, “Achilles said. “They have talked about mail-in ballots. There are a lot of things that have been done to further constrict that. What that does is kind of feed into fringe candidates.”.
To address the issue, the Idaho Task Force of Veterans for Political Innovation, North Idaho Women, Represent US Idaho, the Hope Coalition, and Reclaim Idaho have created a new coalition called “Idahoans for Open Primaries. On Tuesday, the coalition submitted the Open Primaries Initiative’s first 20 signatures to the Idaho Secretary of State along with the full text of the proposal. The group is seeking to place the initiative on the November 2024 ballot.
The initiative aims to create a primary system open to all voters regardless of party affiliation. The Open Primaries Initiative would also make a “top four” primary election, similar to Alaska’s.
“An open primary, the top four out of the primary go into the general election, and folks rank those four candidates in the general election, and the one with the most votes wins,” Achilles said.
If no candidate wins over 50% of the vote, once all first-choice rankings are counted, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and each vote for that candidate is transferred to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process repeats until a candidate receives over 50% of the vote and is declared the winner. Supporters say Instant runoff voting ensures that the winner enjoys support from a broad coalition of voters, not just a narrow faction.
“The folks that I have talked to, Republicans, Independents, they are incredibly excited about this. Everyone is frustrated by the state of Idaho politics,” Achilles said.
In contrast, the Idaho Legislature passed a law this session prohibiting ranked-choice voting in the State of Idaho. Some said it violates the principle of “one person, one vote.” Additionally, some critics of ranked-choice voting say the process is too complicated, and the person who gets the most votes on the first ballot where no one candidate reached the 50% plus one threshold could end up losing once candidates start to be eliminated in subsequent rounds.
In response to the initiative to open Idaho’s primaries and impose ranked choice voting, IDGOP Chairwoman Dorothy Moon issued the following statement:
Achilles said from his perspective and looking at the voter data in Alaska, many Alaskans like ranked-choice voting.
“The folks that are benefiting from this system (closed primaries) are going to be the ones loudest in pushing back,” Achilles said.
Achilles said it would repeal the law prohibiting ranked-choice voting if the ballot initiative were to pass and become law. Some Idaho lawmakers are already showing support for the initiative.
“I certainly understand, and I think most Idahoans agree that the legislature has gotten way too extreme,” said Idaho Democratic Party Chair Rep. Lauren Necochea
Right now, supporters of the bill say their next step is to get the required number of signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot. To qualify, the campaign must collect valid signatures from 6% of all Idaho voters registered at the last general election (62,895 signatures) . The campaign must also collect signatures from 6% of registered voters in each of the 18 legislative districts. The campaign must meet these signature requirements by May 1st, 2024.
According to Idahoans for Open Primaries, 63 localities in the United States conduct instant runoff elections. Two states (Maine and Alaska) hold statewide instant runoff elections, and six states (Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia) use instant runoff voting for military and overseas voters.
A coalition of community groups and civic organizations has formed to file a citizen ballot initiative that aims to give Idahoans the freedom to vote in open, nonpartisan primary elections.
The new coalition, called “Idahoans for Open Primaries,” includes the Idaho Task Force of Veterans for Political Innovation, North Idaho Women, Represent US Idaho, the Hope Coalition, and Reclaim Idaho.
More coalition partners will be announced in the summer, when the coalition plans to hold signature-drive kickoff events in every region of the state.
The coalition is critical of Idaho’s closed Republican primary, which blocks independent voters from participating in elections unless they join a political party. The Open Primaries Initiative, which the group intends to place on the November 2024 ballot, aims to create a non-partisan primary system that is open to all voters regardless of party affiliation.
“I’ve always thought of Idaho as a fiercely independent state,” said retired news anchor Karole Honas, who identifies as an independent and has signed up to collect signatures. “I’m fed up with being forced to join a political party in order to vote in our state’s most important elections.”
“There are 200,000 voters in Idaho who are independent like me, and we’re blocked from voting in Idaho’s most important primary elections,” said Debbie Reid-Oleson, a fourth-generation rancher from Blackfoot who added her name as one of the first 20 signers of the Open Primaries Initiative. “It’s wrong that we’re forced to join a political party just to exercise our right to vote.”
The coalition has already recruited local leaders and begun planning volunteer events across the state. Volunteers say the initiative will help elect leaders who are focused on solving problems, not wasting time with controversies that turn us against each other.
“Our current primary system incentivizes candidates to demonize people who disagree with them rather than focus on solving problems,” said Hyrum Erickson, a Republican Precinct Committeeman in Rexburg who has committed to collect signatures for the Open Primaries Initiative. “We can do better.”
Similar to an initiative recently passed in Alaska, the Open Primaries Initiative would create a “top four” primary election. All candidates participate in the same primary election and the top four candidates advance to the general election. Voters then choose the winner in a general election with instant runoff voting, which gives voters the freedom to pick their top candidate and then to rank additional candidates in order of preference.
Instant runoff voting ensures that the winner enjoys support from a broad coalition of voters and not just a narrow faction. If no candidate wins over 50% of the vote once all first-choice rankings are counted, the last-place candidate is eliminated and each vote for that candidate is transferred to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process repeats until a candidate receives over 50% of the vote and is declared the winner.
Supporters say the instant runoff process gives every voter a voice. Even if a voter’s first choice is eliminated, the voter’s remaining choices still count.
“This is a simple, common-sense reform that will give us better elections and better leadership,” said former Republican Speaker of the House Bruce Newcomb, who added his name as one of the first 20 signers of the Open Primaries Initiative.
Utah recently held instant runoff elections in 21 cities. In a survey conducted after the elections, over 80% of the Utah voters who participated said the election system was easy to understand. A 2022 Alaska survey found that 85% of Alaska voters viewed the instant runoff process as “simple.”
There are 63 localities in the United States that conduct instant runoff elections. Two states (Maine and Alaska) hold statewide instant runoff elections, and 6 states (Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Georgia) use instant runoff voting for military and overseas voters.
On Tuesday the coalition submitted the initiative’s first 20 signatures to the Idaho Secretary of State along with the full text of the proposal. Before additional signatures can be collected, the initiative must be reviewed by the offices of the Secretary of State and Attorney General. Campaign organizers expect the signature drive to begin in June.
In order to qualify for the November 2024 ballot, the campaign must collect valid signatures from 6% of all Idaho voters who were registered at the last general election, which is 62,895 signatures statewide. The campaign must also collect signatures from 6% of registered voters in each of 18 legislative districts. The campaign must meet these signature requirements by May 1st, 2024.
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