Idahoans will have the opportunity in November of 2024 to open up our elections so that every eligible voter can participate in choosing their public officials. There will be an “Open Primaries” initiative on the ballot to establish a primary election where all candidates run on a single ticket, allowing every voter to select from the entire field. The four top vote-getters will be placed on the general election ballot, where all voters can vote for the candidates in their order of preference.
A candidate who receives an outright majority of the vote in the initial vote count wins the office. If there is no majority winner, the candidate receiving the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the votes of those who made that candidate their first choice then go to their second-choice candidate in a second count. If a candidate gets a majority in the second count, they win. If not, the process repeats until a candidate gets a majority. The beauty of this system is that every voter has a better chance of influencing the election–if their first choice does not win, their second choice might. The system is often called ranked choice voting.
This is similar to the system in Alaska, which gained wide approval from voters in the 2022 election. Voters surveyed said it was easy to use. It gave them more choices in the primary and more influence in selecting leaders. It has reportedly had a moderating effect on Alaskan politics–something that Idaho desperately needs.
The initiative is supported by a coalition of groups and individuals, including former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Bruce Newcomb and long-time Idaho Falls news anchor Karole Honas, an independent. Newcomb said the system “will give us better elections and better leadership.” Honas says “opening up the primary will force candidates to consider the perspectives of a broader group of voters in order to win.” The Alaska experience shows that both of them are absolutely correct.
The support coalition includes a national veteran’s group, Veterans for Political Innovation (VPI), and its Idaho affiliate, of which I am a member. The group supports open primaries across the country, based on the belief that veterans put themselves at risk to make participation in government open to all Americans, regardless of party.
VPI co-founder Todd Connor welcomed the Idaho initiative, saying, “Idaho has an exciting opportunity, and arguably a moral obligation, to open up their election systems to allow more people to vote and have a voice, have more options at the ballot box, and do something different to combat the toxic polarization that Americans are tired of and that is destroying our country in real time. Military veterans, 50% of whom identify as independent, expect better politics and Idaho has an opportunity to get this right. We’re honored to support this effort.”
Reclaim Idaho, which ran two previous initiatives with broad voter support–Medicaid expansion, which passed with 60%, and an education measure that forced the Legislature to increase public education spending by well over $300 million–will shoulder the burden of getting the voter initiative on the ballot.
The disruptive wing of the GOP, which brought us Dorothy Moon, Janice McGeachin and Priscilla Giddings, will fight the initiative tooth and nail. They understand it will loosen their stranglehold on the Republican Party and allow more reasonable and pragmatic people to defeat the troublemaking extremists.
In a recent article appropriately titled, “Why conservatives should not fear ranked choice voting,” the reliably conservative Cato Institute has debunked the claims of Moon and other extremists that the system would harm conservative candidates. The article concludes that ranked choice voting “tends to help the sorts of candidates who appeal to many kinds of voters, not just a narrow, super‐committed base.” That is exactly the objective of the “Open Primaries” initiative. Conservative need not fear the initiative, but disruptive extremists probably should.