The Idaho Senate has passed SB 1066, Sen. Chuck Winder’s bill to give political parties the option for a March presidential primary election at state taxpayer expense – with an estimated cost of $2 million – in addition to the May primary. The bill passed on a 23-11 vote, after much debate.
“Senators, $2 million dollars of the general fund - $2 million dollars that can go to education or any number of other struggling budgets,” said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. “If only one party chooses to change its presidential party, then taxpayers of all political persuasions pay for the actions of one party, which is inappropriate. … Parties’ political actions should be paid for by the party, not by the taxpayers and not through the general fund.”
Backers of the bill said Idaho’s GOP presidential caucuses in the last presidential primary election cycle excluded many voters, including military members stationed overseas and elderly voters who couldn’t come out for several hours in the evening. “Fair and open elections are the proper role of government,” said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, “and though cost might be an issue, what’s the cost of not involving our citizenry? … It should be the right of our citizens to have a voice in that selection.”
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said of primary elections, “They benefit the party, but they also benefit the citizens of the state generally.” Winder said, “It takes away some of the problems that you potentially have in a caucus. … People struggled with it, it wasn’t as effective as they wanted it to be. It restricted elderly people from participating, it restricted the military from voting. … This is not coercing the parties to move away from the caucus, but … I think we’ll do a better job of getting people invested, having them participate.” The bill now moves to the House side.