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Idaho open primary supporters make final push before May 1 deadline

Reclaim Idaho and Mormon Women for Ethical Government collect signatures even before their event announcing their combined efforts working on the Open Primary Initiative in Meridian on October 7, 2023.
Otto Kitsinger, for the Idaho Capital Sun
Reclaim Idaho and Mormon Women for Ethical Government collect signatures even before their event announcing their combined efforts working on the Open Primary Initiative in Meridian on October 7, 2023.

‘Last chance to sign’ ballot initiative events planned for Saturday in 20 Idaho communities

Supporters of the open primaries ballot initiative in Idaho are offering voters one last chance to sign their petition before next week’s May 1 deadline to submit signatures for verification.

For their final push, members of the Idahoans for Open Primaries coalition are organizing “last chance to sign day” events in 20 different Idaho towns and communities on Saturday. A statewide open primaries rally is also planned for 9 a.m. Saturday in Boise at Ivywild Park, 416 Ivywild St. A full list of events will be posted at the Idahoans for Open Primaries website.

“We are hosting signing locations in 20 different towns and communities – from Blackfoot to Sandpoint and everywhere in between,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville said.

In Idaho, a ballot initiative is a form of direct democracy where the people of Idaho propose and vote on passing a law completely independent of the Idaho Legislature. Reclaim Idahowhich is a member of the open primaries coalition, is the same organization that was behind the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, which more than 60% of Idahoans voted for.

This year, supporters are hoping to qualify their open primary ballot initiative for the November general election. In order to do so, supporters need to gather signatures for 6% of Idaho voters statewide and from 6% of voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.

To meet the statewide total, supporters need about 63,000 valid signatures.

On Monday, Mayville told the Sun that supporters believe they have already gathered 88,000 signatures and hope to surpass 90,000 signatures by the end of Saturday’s events. Open primary supporters are seeking to exceed the required number of signatures to give them a buffer for any signatures that cannot be verified or are invalid. Signatures could be ruled invalid if they cannot be read, if the voter’s address on the petition does not match the voter’s address from their voter registration or if the person who signed is not registered to vote.

“It feels like we have built an incredible amount of momentum, and based on the conversations we have had with voters across the state it’s clear that we have a path to victory in November,” Mayville said.

Back in March, Idahoans for Open Primaries supporters announced they were on the brink of meeting the state’s requirements to qualify the initiative for the November election.

How does the open primary initiative work in Idaho?

If the open primary ballot initiative qualifies for the November general election, it would take a simple majority vote to approve it.

If the initiative is successful, it would make changes to Idaho’s primary and general elections. The initiative would end Idaho’s closed partisan primary electrons, which have been in place since 2011. The closed primary law means that political parties do not have to let voters vote in their primary election unless they are formally affiliated with that political party. During the most recent state primary election in 2022, only the Idaho Democratic Party allowed other voters to participate. All other party primary elections were closed. Under the open primary ballot initiative, the closed primary would be replaced by one open primary election, where all voters and candidates would participate, regardless of party affiliation. The four primary election candidates with the most votes would all advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The open primary ballot initiative would also make changes to the general election by creating a new instant runoff or ranked choice voting system.

Under that system, Idaho voters would pick their favorite candidate and then have the option of ranking the three other candidates on their ballot in order of preference. When the votes are counted, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated and the votes for that candidate would instead be transferred to voters’ second choice candidate on each of those ballots. That process would continue until there are two candidates left, and the candidate who receives the most votes is elected the winner.

Supporters of the open primary initiative say the changes will make it so that candidates will have to be accountable and representative to a wider group of voters. Ending the closed primary election law will also make it so the state’s 275,000 registered unaffiliated voters could vote in primary elections, supporters say.

“The most widespread grievance with the current system is that independent voters feel like they don’t have a voice,” Mayville said. “Those who haven’t aligned themselves with a political party understand that they are being blocked from voting in the most important elections, and it’s very clear to them that is unfair. Beyond the independent voters, Democrats and Republicans and nearly everyone else sympathize with independent voters and want them to have a voice.”

But opponents say the initiative is confusing, would complicate elections that Idaho voters have grown used to and would result in more moderate candidates being elected.

Thus far, the most vocal public opposition to the initiative has been led by Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador and Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon.

In a message posted in May 2023 to X, the website formerly known as Twitter, Labrador posted in part, “Let’s defeat these bad ideas coming from liberal outside groups.”

Efforts to reach Moon for an interview Monday and Tuesday were unsuccessful. Instead, staff from the Idaho Republican Party provided the Sun with public statements Moon posted in the last year about the initiative and ranked choice voting.

“The ballot initiative that Reclaim Idaho is collecting signatures for are complex strategies that essentially sideline political parties from the primary process, enabling Democrats, independents and even Socialists to determine your nominee for the general election,” Moon wrote in a written statement first published in August that was provided to the Sun this week. “Rather than ensuring the security of our elections, Reclaim Idaho aims to complicate our electoral system with California-style voting mechanisms.”

“The American Republic has long been guided by the principle of one person, one vote,” Moon added. “Ranked choice voting twists this system into something unrecognizable.”

Shortly before the May 1 deadline, Mayville said support volunteers will submit signatures for verification to local county clerks across the state. County clerks will have 60 days to go through each signature and check it against voter registration files to ensure the voter is registered, the address is correct and the signature matches, Mayville said. Even though the deadline is not until May 1, Idahoans for Open Primaries supporters have already been submitting signatures to county clerks along the way and have already had more than 40,000 signatures verified, Mayville said.

After this 60-day review process is complete, Idahoans for Open Primaries supporters will then take the signatures to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office for an additional review in July, Mayville said.

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This story was originally published by the Idaho Capital Sun.