Idaho is one of 15 states with a closed or partially closed primary system. A closed primary means a voter must affiliate with a particular party in order to vote in that party’s primary election. States with partially closed primaries allow political parties to determine whether their primaries will be open or closed. 

When Idaho transitioned to a partially closed primary system in 2011, Democrats chose to keep their primaries open while Republicans did not. However, the Idahoans for Open Primaries coalition seeks to change that.

The group sent an outline of its proposal and the first to the Secretary of State’s office earlier this week. In order to get the initiative on the November 2024 ballot, they’ll need to gather approximately 63,000 signatures before May 2024.

In addition to opening Idaho’s primaries, Idahoans for Open Primaries also wants to change how primary elections are administered.

Idahoans for Open Primaries is advocating for a “top four” approach. All candidates (Republican, Democratic, Independent, Libertarian) would run in the same primaries. Voters would vote as usual and the four candidates with the most votes would move on to the general election. 

During the general election, voters rank each candidate from 1-4. All votes would be tallied for everyone’s first-choice candidate. If no candidate won 50% of the vote, the lowest performing candidate would be eliminated and all votes for that candidate would be distributed to those voters’ second-choice candidates. 

“This is a simple, common-sense reform that will give us better elections and better leadership,” said Bruce Newcomb, former Republican Speaker of the Idaho House and one of the first 20 signers of the petition, in an Idaho Capital Sun article

Political party response

If this initiative passes in November 2024, it will overturn legislation passed this year. HB 179 prohibits the use of ranked-choice voting in any election: federal, state or local. 

“The people of Idaho’s elected representatives enacted a statutory defense of ‘one person, one vote,’ said Dorothy Moon, Chairwoman of the Idaho Republican Party. “Now a Leftist group is bringing this initiative to repeal ‘one person, one vote’ and replace it with a complicated scheme of ranked multi-voting, where voters choose multiple candidates and their votes are tabulated in a hidden process. This method favors Democrats where it has been used. It has also been abused, repeatedly.”

Lauren Necochea, chair of the Idaho Democratic Party, said she anticipates that Idahoans of all political backgrounds will be interested in the initiative. 

“Too often, the closed Republican primary is saddling Idahoans with the most extreme candidates rather than the candidates who are most closely aligned with the voters,” Necochea said. “This extremism shows up in a legislative agenda focused on attacking libraries and imprisoning healthcare providers, while basic needs like our crumbling schools and property tax reform get neglected.”