The Idaho Supreme Court ruled against Attorney General Raul Labrador’s open primaries ballot initiative titles.

Idahoans for Open Primaries and Reclaim Idaho won Thursday in their attempt to upend the state’s primary system and replace it with an open voting system in which the top four earners in the primary advance to the general election. 

The proposal would also replace the general election, which currently has one nominee from each party run against each other, with a rankedchoice system. Under this system, voters can rank candidates in order of preference. Votes are counted in successive rounds, each of which eliminating the candidate with the least amount of votes. A vote for the eliminated candidate then goes to the next-highest-ranked candidate. 

The organizations filed a petition on July 10 asking the court to review Labrador’s drafts for the short and long ballot initiative titles, saying they were inaccurate and partial.

Labrador has expressed opposition to the open primaries ballot initiative. In the cover letter he submitted along with the titles to the Secretary of State, he called the initiative “unconstitutional” and threatened to sue the petitioners if the question made it onto the ballot.

Original Short Ballot Title:

Measure to (1) replace voter selection of party nominees with nonparty blanket primary; (2) require ranked-choice voting for general elections

Original Long Ballot Title:

This measure proposes two distinct changes to elections for most public offices. First, this measure would abolish Idaho’s party primaries. Under current law, political parties nominate candidates through primary elections in which party members vote for a candidate to represent the party in the general election. The initiative would create a system where all candidates participate in a nonparty blanket primary and all voters vote on all candidates. The top four vote-earners for each office would advance to the general election. Candidates could list any affiliation on the ballot, but would not represent political parties, and need not be associated with the party they name. Second, the measure would require ranked-choice voting for the general election. Under current law, voters may select one candidate for each office, and the candidate with the most votes wins. Instead, ranked-choice voting would require voting for each candidate on the ballot in order of preference. The votes would be counted in successive rounds for each order of preference. The candidate with the fewest votes in each round would be eliminated, and votes for that candidate in later rounds would not be counted. The candidate with the most votes in the final round would win. 

The court sided with the petitioners, saying that Labrador did not adhere to Idaho Code section 34-1809, which requires short ballot titles to be distinctive and contain words “by which the measure is commonly referred to or spoken of.” Both the short and long titles must also not include biased language.

The court particularly took issue with the term “nonparty blanket primary,” which they said does not appear to be commonly used in Idaho and appears to be of the attorney general’s “own creation.” They also said the term is not distinctive because there is no existing definition for it and leaves out how many candidates advance to the general election.

The court concluded that the terms “nonparty blanket primary,” “blanket primary” and “open primary” would cause prejudice because they don’t accurately describe the proposed system.

They also said that the portion of the short title stating that the initiative would “require ranked choice voting” is prejudicial because it makes the proposal seem as if it would require voters to rank each candidate. 

The court ordered Labrador to rewrite the titles consistent with Idaho law and the court’s opinion. 

Labrador submitted revised ballot titles on Friday.

More information on the ballot initiative can be found on the Idahoans for Open Primaries website.