Legislative committee advances bill to move Idaho’s presidential primary elections back to May
Lawmakers moved the elections from May to March in 2012 to try to encourage more presidential hopefuls to visit the state
Majority Caucus Chair Idaho Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello, listens to the action on the House floor at the State Capitol in Boise on Jan. 9, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
With very little discussion, the House State Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to advance a bill that would move Idaho’s presidential primary elections from March to May beginning with next year’s presidential primary.
Rep. Dustin Manwaring, R-Pocatello, is sponsoring House Bill 138, which would delete the section of current Idaho law that specifies presidential primary elections are held on the second Tuesday in March.
“What this change does is puts the presidential primary with all other primary elections that are held on the third Tuesday in May,” Manwaring told the House State Affairs Committee.
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Manwaring told the House State Affairs Committee that eliminating the March presidential primary elections could save the state an estimated $2.7 million every four years.
Secretary of State Phil McGrane spoke in favor of passing the bill into law as a cost-saving measure.
“As I came into office and began working on the budget for the office, this was one of the biggest things that stood out,” McGrane told legislators Wednesday. “So we started asking the question on what is the utility of what we are trying to do? I think Rep. Manwaring framed it very well — we just haven’t seen the return on investment.”
McGrane also said voter turnout has been lower in May since moving the presidential primary election up to March. By moving the presidential primary election back to May and combining it with all the other primary elections, McGrane said voter turnout would be expected to increase again in May.
Nobody else spoke during a public hearing over the bill, and nobody mentioned that an unintended consequence of moving the Idaho presidential primaries from March back to May – undoing a change the Legislature made in 2012 – could result in the presidential nominations being clinched before Idahoans get to vote. Currently, Idaho’s presidential primary elections are held on the second Tuesday in March. House Bill 138 would push that primary back by more than two months until the third Tuesday in May.
Why did the Idaho Legislature move the presidential primary up in the calendar year in the first place?
The circumstances were different when legislators moved the primary date in 2012, as Republicans and Democrats used caucuses that both parties have since abandoned in favor of a primary election. But one of the reasons Republican Party officials favored moving the date up in 2012 was in an attempt to make Idaho voters more relevant to the presidential nomination system. For example, during the four presidential elections leading up to the 2012 legislative session when the law was last changed, all but one major party presidential candidate had already clinched the nomination, rendering Idahoans’ primary votes effectively meaningless by the time the third Tuesday in May rolls around.
On Wednesday, Manwaring said moving the primary election date up in 2012 failed to attract many major presidential candidates to Idaho and didn’t give Idaho significantly more influence in the primary candidate nomination process.
House Bill 138 heads next to the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives with a recommendation it passes. If the Idaho House passes the bill, it would then be sent to the Idaho Senate for consideration. Consolidating elections has been one of several early themes of the 2023 legislative session. Republicans are running multiple bills that would eliminate the March and August election dates that local school districts can use to run bond issues and levy. The Idaho House voted 43-26 on Feb. 10 to pass House Bill 58, which is one of the bills that would eliminate the school districts’ March and August election dates and move everything to either the May primary election or November general election.
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