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North Idahoans organize for Open Primaries Initiative work

May 28, 2023

The Coalition for Open Primaries is beginning what a local volunteer told coalition leader Luke Mayville is the most important Idaho citizens’ initiative drive in the past decade. Mayville, who was addressing a Zoom group of more than 50 volunteers from all over North Idaho Tuesday, agreed.

“For the first time in many years, if the Open Primaries Initiative passes in 2024, there will be just one primary, open to all parties and Independents, and we will elect leaders who truly represent the majority of Idaho voters,” he said.

Mayville and many of Tuesday night’s participants are veterans of two previous initiatives begun by Reclaim Idaho, so they know what this effort involves.

“In order to obtain the needed 62,000 valid voter signatures from 18 different legislative districts in the state totaling six percent of registered voters in Idaho,” Mayville explained, “we have to obtain between 90,000 and 100,000 signatures.”

Mayville, cofounder of the coalition member organization called Reclaim Idaho, explained that often those signing petitions do not realize that they are no longer registered to vote due to changes of name or address since they registered. Some also are removed from the voter rolls for not voting for a certain length of time.

“As most of you know, Sandpoint is my home town,” Mayville said, “and I plan to be in Sandpoint for the statewide kickoff in mid-July.”

A local Reclaim Idaho member said she went door to door in her Bonners Ferry Kootenai Precinct with Mayville for the first petition drive. That drive was successful in expanding Medicaid health coverage to over 100,000 low-income workers throughout Idaho. So she asked Mayville to include Bonners Ferry when he comes to Sandpoint.

One local member of Reclaim Idaho is getting together a local coalition of folks who want open primaries. She told the Zoom group Tuesday that of the three initiative campaigns she has volunteered in, she strongly believes the upcoming Open Primaries Initiative is the most important to be sure Idahoans obtain the best representation.

Mayville said that under the current system, political party committees often handpick the primary candidates. Primary elections have very low voter turnout, and whoever wins the Republican primary always wins the general election.

“As a result, only about 10-percent of voters in Idaho actually elect our candidates,” he told the group.

Because the Democratic Party in Idaho still has open primaries, Mayville was asked by a volunteer from Coeur d’Alene if members of the Republican Party would be the biggest opponents to the initiative.

“No, actually, there are plenty of Republican volunteers already in the Coalition and some of you are on this call,” Mayville explained. “The initiative, if it makes it to the ballot in November 2024 and is voted in, would not hurt either major party but would help both, as well as Libertarians and Independents.

"Under our proposed system, in the primary election, everyone will vote for all candidates, regardless of party. The four candidates with the most votes will then go on to the general election.

“In some parts of Idaho, all four will be Republicans; most parts of Idaho will have a mix. Most areas of Idaho probably would have something like two Republicans, one Independent and one Democrat.”

States like Maine, Alaska and Utah already use a rank-choice system. This system is not confusing to voters at all, he said,

“in fact, more than 80-percent of voters in the 21 Utah cities who have this system thought it was simple," he said. “The Open Primaries Initiative would create a ‘top four’ primary election. All candidates participate in the same primary election and the top four candidates advance to the general election. Voters then choose the winner in a general election with ranked choice voting, which gives voters the freedom to pick their top candidate and then to rank additional candidates in order of preference.”

“Ranked choice voting ensures that the winner enjoys support from a broad coalition of voters and not just a narrow faction. If no candidate wins over 50% of the vote once all first-choice rankings are counted, the last-place candidate is eliminated and each vote for that candidate is transferred to the voter’s second-choice candidate. This process repeats until a candidate receives over 50-percent of the vote and is declared the winner.

“Volunteers in the Idahoans for Open Primaries coalition want elected leaders who represent the majority, something we have not seen in Idaho for years.”

Mayville explained that petitions and instructions are expected to arrive at coalition headquarters by the end of June. “We have until May 1st, 2024 to collect enough valid voter signatures to get it on the ballot in November of 2024.

In Bonners Ferry, anyone or any group interested in helping with the project during the next year, including gathering signatures from their friends, acquaintances and contacts; going door to door in advertised drives or answering questions and taking signatures at public settings, is asked to leave their name and phone number with Clarice McKenney, (208) 267-8005, as soon as possible.

Questions or Comments? Send us an email!

Mike Weland, Publisher

6931 Main St.
P.O. Box 1625
Bonners Ferry, ID 83805
(208) 295-1016

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