By Clark Corbin
Idaho Capital Sun
Organizers with Idahoans for Open Primaries announced Wednesday the coalition has gathered more than 50,000 signatures as part of its effort to qualify a ballot initiative for the November 2024 general election. Idahoans for Open Primaries needs to gather signatures from about 63,000 registered Idaho voters and collect signatures from at least six percent of voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts by May 1.
The coalition is seeking to gather more than the minimum number of signatures in case some signatures cannot be verified or are invalid.
“Our coalition has set a goal of collecting 100,000 signatures before submitting to the Secretary of State’s Office to be certified,” Margaret Kinzel, one of the co-leaders of the Idaho Chapter of Mormon Women for Ethical Government said in a written statement. Along with Reclaim Idaho, which pushed for the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, Mormon Women for Ethical Government is one of several groups supporting the open primary ballot initiative.
“The fact that volunteers have already reached 50,000 signatures in just four months is a testament to how passionate Idahoans are about the prospect of an open primary,” Kinzel added.
A ballot initiative is a form of direct democracy where the voters of Idaho decide at the ballot box whether to pass a proposed law – rather than the Idaho Legislature.
The open primary ballot initiative would make changes to Idaho’s primary and general elections if it qualifies for the ballot and at least 50-percent of Idaho voters vote to pass it.
First, the initiative would replace Idaho’s closed party primary elections with a single open primary election that all candidates and voters would participate in, regardless of party affiliation. The top four candidates in the primary election with the most votes would all advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
The ballot initiative would also transform Idaho’s general election by creating ranked choice, or an instant runoff election system. Under that system, voters would pick their favorite candidate and then be able to rank the remaining candidates in order of preference. The candidate receiving the fewest votes would be eliminated, and the votes for that candidate would then be transferred to the second choice candidate on each of those voters’ ballots. That process would continue until there are two candidates remaining, and the candidates with the most votes would be elected the winner.
Under that system, Idahoans would only vote in the general election once because their ranked choices on their ballots would determine the instant runoff races.
Idaho has had a closed primary law in place since 2011, which means that political parties don’t have to let voters who are not affiliated with their political party vote in their primary elections. The law also allows political parties to choose to open their primary elections to other voters. During the most recent elections in 2022, only the Democratic Party opened its primary election to other voters. The Republican, Constitution Party and Libertarian primary elections were all closed.
Supporters of the open primary initiative said their ballot initiative will force political candidates to be accountable to a wider range of voters because all voters would be able to participate in primary elections.
Opponents of the open primary initiative are led by Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon and Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, who have said the open primary initiative would interject confusion into Idaho elections and benefit more progressive candidates.
The Idahoans for Open Primaries coalition has gained ground steadily. Hundreds of volunteers have been canvassing neighborhoods across the state carrying clipboards and using mobile phone apps loaded up with a database of registered voters’ names and addresses as they gather signatures.
Organizers launched their signature drive August 19 after a legal dispute with Labrador over the ballot titles that would be used to identify the initiative.
By Oct. 11, the coalition had gathered 25,000 signatures, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported.
On Wednesday, organizers announced they had reached 50,000 signatures. Idahoans for Open Primaries also announced Wednesday it had reached the 6% threshold in seven legislative districts and had obtained more than half of the necessary signatures in seven additional districts.
The coalition has until May 1 to turn in its signatures. If ballot initiative qualifies for the November 2024 general election, it would take a simple majority of voters to approve it.