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Idaho open primary initiative certifies enough signatures for November general election ballot

Supporters of the Idaho open primary initiative submitted signatures in support of the ballot initiative to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday, July 2, 2024.  (Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho Capital Sun)
By Kyle Pfannenstiel Idaho Capital Sun

A ballot initiative to end Idaho’s closed primary elections and create a ranked-choice voting system for the general election has enough signatures to appear on the ballot for the Nov. 5 general election, the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office announced Wednesday.

In Idaho, ballot initiatives are a form of direct democracy where the people vote on whether or not to pass a law, independent of the Idaho Legislature.

To qualify for the November election, supporters needed to gather signatures from at least 6% of registered voters statewide and from at least 6% of voters in at least 18 of the state’s legislative districts. To meet the statewide total, open primary supporters needed about 63,000 signatures .

Signatures for the ballot initiative were first verified by Idaho county clerk’s offices, according to a news release. Members of the Idahoans for Open Primaries coalition submitted their signatures to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office for final verification last week.

The Idahoans for Open Primaries coalition includes Reclaim Idaho, Mormon Women for Ethical Government, Veterans for Idaho Voters, Republicans for Open Primaries and thousands of volunteers.

“All across the state, supporters are fired up about the opportunity to turn in these signatures and move on to the next phase,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville told the Sun last week. “This is a celebration of how far we have come, and it also a launch of the next phase of the campaign, which is all about making sure that everyone in Idaho knows about the opportunity to allow all voters to participate in primary elections.”

Arguments in favor and against the initiative are due to the Secretary of State’s Office before midnight on July 20, the agency said in a news release. The initiative’s language and selected pro and con arguments will be in a voter pamphlet, which Idaho voters will receive before the general election, the release said.

The Idaho Republican Party is officially against the initiative.

How does the open primary ballot initiative work?

Under a 2011 state law, political parties do not have to allow anyone who is not formally affiliated with their party to vote in their primary elections.

The initiative seeks to end the closed primary election law that allows political parties to keep independents and other voters from voting in their primary elections. The law also allows parties to choose to open their primary election to other voters if they notify the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, but only the Democratic Party has opened its primary election. The Republican, Constitution Party and Libertarian primary elections were all closed, the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office has previously said.

Instead of closed primaries, the initiative would create a single open primary election that all candidates and all voters would participate in. Under that open primary system, the four candidates that receive the most votes would all advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

The ballot initiative would also change Idaho’s general elections by implementing a ranked-choice voting system that is sometimes referred to as an instant runoff.

Under that system, voters would pick their favorite candidate and have the option of ranking the remaining candidates in order of preference – second, third and fourth. The candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated, and their votes would instead be transferred to the second choice candidate on those voters’ ballots.

That process would continue until there are two candidates, and the candidate receiving the most votes would be elected the winner. Under that system, voters would only vote once.

Idaho Republican Party opposes open primary initiative

The Idaho Republican Party came out in opposition to ranked-choice voting during the secretive Idaho Republican State Convention last month in Coeur d’Alene. Meeting behind closed doors, delegates updated the Idaho Republican Party’s platform to specifically oppose ranked-choice voting. The platform reads: “The Idaho Republican Party opposes ranked-choice voting and any other iterations of ranked-choice voting such as STAR voting, ballot exhaustion and instant runoff.”

In a June 13 interview outside the Idaho Republican State Convention, Moon told the Sun she opposes the ballot initiative and ranked-choice voting.

“When (Republicans) ask me about ranked-choice voting, it’s bad,” Moon told the Sun. “It will destroy our conservative Republican state. So if we want this to become a California – another Democrat state – pass ranked-choice voting. It’s a Democrat voting scheme that’s been implemented lastly in Alaska.”

Moon told the Sun ranked-choice voting is confusing and complicated.

“We have got a lot of boots on the ground ready to start fighting this issue,” Moon said. “You’ve got to vote for people you don’t even like and then you also have a system that is very confusing, especially for people who are used to voting for one person for one position and all of a sudden you are voting for multiple.”

Even though the Idaho Republican Party voted to oppose ranked-choice voting in the party platform, not all Republicans oppose the initiative. Former Gov. Butch Otter, former Speaker of the Idaho House Bruce Newcomb and more than 100 Republican former office holders and voters have endorsed the ballot initiative.