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Organizers launch initiative to open Idaho's primaries, implement ranked choice voting

election, voting, vote, ballot
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

A coalition of community groups announced Tuesday a new ballot initiative to hold open primaries and implement ranked-choice voting in Idaho.

That includes Reclaim Idaho, which has successfully qualified two ballot initiatives in recent years, including the successful Medicaid expansion push.

The state has one of the most lopsided political makeups in the country.

All statewide elected officials are Republican. About 83% of state legislative seats are held by GOP lawmakers, with the primary often acting as the only competitive election.

“It’s wrong that we’re forced to join a political party just to exercise our right to vote,” Debbie Reid-Oleson, a rancher from Blackfoot who was among the original signatories to the campaign, said in a statement.

Idaho’s Republican Party primary has been closed to anyone who’s not an affiliated member since 2012.

That followed a federal court decision in 2011,declaring Idaho’s open primary system unconstitutional because it restricted the state GOP’s First Amendment rights to choose the nominee that best represented its platform.

In his decision, Judge Lynn Winmill rejected the state’s argument that it’s their obligation to prevent more “ideologically extreme” candidates from being nominated by keeping primaries open.

“…choosing ideologically extreme candidates is precisely what a political party is entitled to do in asserting its right of association under the First Amendment,” Winmill wrote.

Idahoans for Open Primaries filed its petition with the Secretary of State’s office Tuesday morning as the first step towards qualifying for the November 2024 general election ballot.

If adopted, all primary candidates – regardless of their party affiliation – would appear on an open primary ballot. Those who are members of a political party could add that designation to the ballot if they choose.

The top four vote-getters would move on to the general election, even if they belong to the same party.

Right now, winners of the Constitution, Democratic, Libertarian and Republican primaries all advance to the general election. Under the initiative, the ranked choice ballot would allow voters to list their preferred candidates from first to last.

If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of counting, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Those who selected the losing candidate as their first choice would then have their votes redirected to their next preferred candidate until one ultimately earns a majority.

“I think more people will vote and I think better leaders can come out of that,” said Karole Honas, a longtime TV anchor in eastern Idaho, who also signed on to the campaign.

“Don’t shut off this idea until you’ve educated yourself on it. Listen to both sides of the story. I would want that from the legislators, the lawmakers, the governor and everybody else,” Honas said.

Organizers must collect nearly 63,000 signatures from voters statewide. A certain percentage of them must be spread across 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.

The deadline to collect those signatures is May 1, 2024.

State lawmakers banned the use of ranked choice voting earlier this year.

“If we implemented ranked choice voting it disenfranchises, confuses and hurts voters and I think it’s ultimately a death blow to an already good process we have,” said Sen. Brian Lenney (R-Nampa) in March during the floor debate.

Both Alaska and Maine use ranked choice voting for statewide elections, as do many municipalities.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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