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Idaho Democrats Prepare For First Primary After 2016 Caucus Mess

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
A man walks by a polling place in November, 2019. Boise Democrats are gearing up for the first party primary in state history after a rocky caucus in 2016.

Idaho Democrats are preparing to vote in the party’s first-ever presidential primary in the state, after it scrapped its caucus system following problems four years ago. 

Four years ago, there was a lot of excitement about the Democratic caucus here in Idaho. Too much, it turned out, for the party to handle.


More than 23,000 voters cast ballots, and Ada County hosted the largest caucus in U.S. history. But that meant voters like Boise attorney Talasi Brooks had to wait for hours to get in.


“There were already huge lines going around city blocks and it was hard to even tell where the end of the line was,” she said. “Yes, it was crazy.”


What caused the mess? Unlike a primary, where voters just vote, at a caucus supporters of one candidate try to convince others to join their side. That can take hours. In the case of the now infamous Iowa caucus meltdown, that was caused by a faulty app.


Jordan Morales, a district chair for the Idaho Democrats, was at the 2016 caucus. He said no one was prepared for the long wait and eventually people started getting hungry.


“There was a gentleman going up the line with a stack of Little Caesars pizza is selling them for like $10, like double the price,” he said.


Soon after that caucus, Idaho scrapped their caucus in favor of a primary, long before the mess in Iowa, when it took a week to get results. Aside from the headaches and inconvenience, critics of caucuses say that it keeps people away who otherwise would vote. 


Jesse Maldonado, the political director for the Idaho Democratic Party, said that scrapping the caucus was a no-brainer.


“It cost the state party money and it cost people a lot of time and it ultimately was really disenfranchising,” he said.


Brooks, the Boise attorney, agrees. She recently had a baby and says she wouldn’t have time to wait in a long caucus line.


“So switching to the primary system will let more people’s voices to be heard,” she said. 


Still, Morales says some people might miss the voter interaction. Not him, though.


“You know, it was fun to be able to say I was part of the biggest caucus but, yeah, I would never do that again,” he said.


Tuesday, March 10 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the Democrats and Republicans will hold their primary — yep, Republicans have a primary, too. For more information on voting locations and registration rules, check out our guide


CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to reflect that Ada County broke the record for the largest caucus in U.S. history. A previous version incorrectly stated that Idaho had broken the record for statewide participation.


Follow Heath Druzin on Twitter, @HDruzin

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

Heath Druzin was Boise State Public Radio’s Guns & America fellow from 2018-2020, during which he focused on extremist movements, suicide prevention and gun culture.