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Idaho Senate passes bill to reinstate presidential primary election

Voters cast their ballots at Timberline High School during the Idaho Primary on May 17, 2022.
Otto Kitsinger
Voters cast their ballots at Timberline High School during the Idaho Primary on May 17, 2022.

State’s political parties would still be able to choose to conduct their own caucus under Sen. Chuck Winder’s proposed legislation

Idaho could again have a presidential primary election.

The Idaho Senate on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 1415 on a 31-4 vote. Under the bill, political parties would have the option of using results from the reinstated primary election to award delegates to presidential candidates, or they could choose to hold their own caucus again.

Either way, voters would be able to participate in a presidential primary election in Idaho if the new bill is passed into law.

Bill sponsor Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told lawmakers in committee on Friday that the presidential primary election would take place in conjunction with the state’s other primary elections for legislative and county races.

“This is an effort to try and find the sweet spot in this process without interfering with the right of the party to make their choice as to whether they want to use the results or whether they want to continue to have a caucus,” Winder said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “I’m not going to debate the ups and downs of that. But we just had one. It seemed to work well and they were organized, but the turnout was low. This would allow people to express their preference in a presidential election.”

The bill was introduced on Friday. The Senate voted to suspend rules to take up the bill Tuesday. Winder said part of the reason behind that is that it could apply to the state’s upcoming primary in May.

Last year, the Idaho Legislature eliminated the presidential primary election when it passed a bill attempting to move the presidential primary from March to May.

When the Idaho Legislature didn’t reinstate the presidential primary, the Idaho Republican Party and Idaho Democratic Party each stepped in to schedule a presidential caucus instead.

The Idaho Republican Presidential Caucus was held March 2, and voters had to attend in person. Unlike a primary election, there was no option for active duty members of the military serving away from home, religious missionaries, people who had to work, people who were ill or disabled and people who lacked transportation to participate in the caucus if they could not attend in person. The Idaho Capital Sun calculated voter turnout for the Idaho Republican Caucus at about 6.8%. By comparison, turnout for the 2022 primary election in Idaho was 32.5%.

The bill now heads to the Idaho House for consideration.

Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle, voted for the bill, saying he liked the simplicity of the solution.

“This fits the idea of enfranchising voters but also giving the parties a choice,” Herndon said.

Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, also called the bill a simple solution. But he voted against it, noting its quick move through the Legislature.

“I could be wrong, but I’m not sure if any of the stakeholders of the parties were discussed, contacted or consulted about this,” Lenney said.

Idaho Capital Sun senior reporter Clark Corbin contributed to this story.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.