Idaho Open Primary Initiative Confirms Enough Signatures for November General Election
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Idaho Open Primary Initiative Confirms Enough Signatures for November General Election

A referendum initiative to end Idaho’s closed primaries and create a graded-choice voting system for general elections has collected enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in the Nov. 5 general election, the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office announced Wednesday.

In Idaho, legislative initiatives are a form of direct democracy in which people vote to pass or reject legislation independently of the Idaho State Legislature.

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

The signatures for the referendum initiative were first verified by Idaho county clerks’ 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 excited to get those signatures in and move on to the next phase,” Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville told the Sun last week. “It’s a celebration of how far we’ve come, and it’s also the start of the next phase of the campaign to make sure everyone in Idaho knows about the opportunity to give all voters a chance to participate in the primary.”

Arguments for and against the initiative must be received by the Secretary of State’s Office by 11:59 p.m. Mountain Time on July 20, the agency said in a news release. The initiative language and selected arguments for and against will be included in a ballot pamphlet that Idaho voters will receive before the general election, the release said.

The Idaho Republican Party officially opposes the initiative.

How does the open pre-vote initiative work?

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

The initiative aims to end closed elections laws that allow political parties to prevent independents and other voters from voting in their primaries. The law also allows parties to open their primaries to other voters if they notify the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, but only the Democratic Party has opened its primaries. The Republican, Constitution Party and Libertarian primaries have closed, the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office previously announced.

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

The referendum initiative would also change Idaho’s general elections by introducing a runoff voting system, sometimes called a tiebreaker.

Under this system, voters would choose their favorite candidate and have the opportunity to rank 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.

This process will continue until there are two candidates, and the candidate who receives the most votes will be chosen as the winner. In this system, voters will only vote once.

Idaho Republican Party opposes open primary initiative

The Idaho Republican Party opposed ranked-choice voting during the secret Idaho Republican State Convention in Coeur d’Alene last month. Delegates met behind closed doors and updated the Idaho Republican Party platform to explicitly oppose ranked-choice voting. The platform reads: “The Idaho Republican Party opposes ranked-choice voting and all other versions of ranked-choice voting, such as STAR voting, ballot exhaustion, and instant runoff voting.”

In an interview June 13 before the Idaho Republican Party state convention, Moon told The Sun that she opposes the referendum initiative and class action voting.

“When (Republicans) ask me about suffrage voting, that’s wrong,” Moon told The Sun. “It’s going to destroy our conservative Republican state. So if we want this to become California — another Democratic state — let’s pass suffrage voting. That’s the Democratic voting system that was recently implemented in Alaska.”

Moon told The Sun that the ranking voting method was confusing and complicated.

“We have a lot of people in place ready to fight this problem,” Moon said. “You have to vote for people you don’t even like, and then you have a system that is very confusing, especially for people who are used to voting for one person for one position, and suddenly you’re voting for a lot of people.”

Although the Idaho Republican Party voted against pre-selection voting in the party platform, not all Republicans oppose the initiative. Former Gov. Butch Otter, former Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb and more than 100 former GOP officials and voters supported the referendum initiative.