Eye On Boise

Party-line vote approves $200K state voter-ed effort for GOP closed primary

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa answers questions from lawmakers about his request for a $200,000 voter-education program about Idaho's new closed primary law; the Idaho Republican Party will hold the state's first-ever closed primary in May. (Betsy Russell)
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa answers questions from lawmakers about his request for a $200,000 voter-education program about Idaho's new closed primary law; the Idaho Republican Party will hold the state's first-ever closed primary in May. (Betsy Russell)

Idaho's election laws have changed dramatically for this year's primary election, due to the Legislature's passage of HB 351 last year to allow the Republican Party to close its primary to anyone who's not a registered Republican; Idaho's never before had official party registration. So Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa came before JFAC this morning to request $200,000 for a voter education campaign to bring Idaho voters up to speed.

"There's a lot of uncertainty out there," Ysursa told legislative budget writers. "An informed voter is a good voter, and we think we need to do the best we can to get them informed so they can make a proper choice on Election Day, and save a lot of trial and tribulations for our poll workers."

The money includes $56,000 for newspaper advertising, $16,000 for billboards, $7,000 for radio ads, $82,000 for TV advertising, $6,000 for graphic design, printing and postage, and $25,000 for poll worker training, along with some miscellaneous expenses. Lawmakers suggested Ysursa consider social media as well, to help inform younger voters.

Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, asked whether Ysursa had asked the political parties to pick up the cost, and he said no. In Georgia, counties sued and went to the state Supreme Court trying to recover primary election costs from the parties there, and the court said the counties had to pay; Ysursa said elections are paid for with state general funds.

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, "Given that really only one political party is bent on closing their primary, and given that the entire system is very confusing ... I guess I'm a bit more surprised that there hasn't been more of an effort to ask at least one of the political parties to participate." Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said,  "Well, we get the dubious honor in this committee of funding lots of things that we didn't vote for ... or things that we don't necessariy agree with." Though HB 351 last year had a fiscal note suggesting a $215,000 cost, money wasn't appropriated then, he said; Ysursa has lowered that to $200,000 now.

The motion to fund the $200,000 from state general funds passed on a 15-4 party-line vote, with all four of JFAC's Democrats objecting.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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