Why Idaho Republicans Want An Earlier Presidential Primary In 2016

Mar 29, 2015

The Idaho House is set to vote Monday on a bill that would move Idaho’s presidential primary from May to March. Lawmakers are considering the change because of a 2012 event.

In the winter of 2012, all eyes were on the crowded field of Republican presidential candidates. And Idaho’s Republican Party didn’t want to wait until the state-run election in May to let party members weigh in.

Republican voters lined up in school gyms across the state for a party caucus. And it was messy.

It didn't help that Idaho has two time zones. People started to leave the northern caucuses once they heard voters in Mountain Time had already chosen Mitt Romney.

“It was decided before they ever really got their voting done,” Sen. Chuck Winder says.

Winder wants to move the state’s presidential primaries up and let them replace party caucuses. It could cost Idaho taxpayers between $1 and $2 million. Some say the money could be better used elsewhere.

The Senate has already approved the measure. If it passes the Idaho House, the bill moves to the governor’s desk.

Idaho Democratic lawmakers -- and some Republicans -- object the price tag to move the primary is too high, especially because Idaho’s Republican primary is now closed to all but registered Republicans.

Proponents say moving the election would give Idaho more sway over the national race and they say a state-run election is more inclusive than the party caucuses. Voting absentee is not an option in caucuses, which take place at a specific day and time. Republican lawmakers backing the measure say that excludes members of the military and elderly voters.

The Idaho Republican caucus in 2012 was the first time most Idaho Republicans had participated in a caucus. It succeeded in drawing all the major Republican presidential candidates to Idaho for campaign stops.

The Democratic Party had previously held statewide caucuses in the 2008 presidential election.