Some prominent Idaho Republicans push back against open primary ballot initiative

AG Raúl Labrador, Idaho GOP Chair Dorothy Moon and state Sen. Brian Lenney all criticize initiative 

By: - May 8, 2023 4:30 am
Voters cast their ballots at Fairmont Junior High in Boise during the Idaho primary election

Voters cast their ballots at Fairmont Junior High in Boise during the Idaho primary election on May 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

As expected, some prominent Idaho Republicans have started pushing back against a new ballot initiative that is designed to end Idaho’s closed primary system and fundamentally change elections in Idaho. 

On Tuesday morning, organizers with a new coalition called Idahoans for Open Primaries filed a new ballot initiative with the state that is designed to replace Idaho’s closed primaries with an open primary election that all Idaho voters could participate in, regardless of party affiliation. Under the new primary format, the top four vote-getters from the primary would all advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. 


The initiative would also transform Idaho’s general elections to include an instant runoff, or ranked choice, voting system. Under that system, Idaho voters would vote for their first-choice candidate in the general election and have the ability to rank the three remaining candidates in order of preference. If one candidate did not receive more than 50% of the vote in the first-choice voting, the last-place finisher would be eliminated and their votes would instead be transferred to voters’ second-choice candidate on each of those ballots, with the process continuing until one candidate receives more than 50% of the votes and is the winner. 

Organizers of the new open primary initiative oppose the Idaho Republican Party’s closed primary election and say the new open primaries would allow more voters to participate in primary elections and force candidates to appeal to a broader base of voters in order to win election.

The Republican-controlled Idaho Legislature passed a law in 2011, House Bill 351, to close Idaho’s primary elections after the GOP sued the state. Closed primary elections are only open to registered voters who officially affiliate with the party. The law that closed primary elections also gave party leaders the choice to keep their primary elections open, and the Idaho Democratic Party opened its primary elections to all voters, regardless of party affiliation. 

The Idaho Democratic Party was the only political party to hold open primaries in 2022, the most recent state elections. Both the Libertarian and Constitution parties held closed primary elections in 2022, said Chelsea Carattini, a spokesperson for the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office. 

Idaho GOP leaders denounce new open primary ballot initiative

After the new initiative surfaced, some Republican leaders began pushing back.

On Wednesday, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador, a former member of Congress and the former chairman of the Idaho Republican Party, responded to a tweet about the open primary initiative

“Let’s defeat these bad ideas coming from liberal outside groups,” Labrador tweeted, in part. (The first part of Labrador’s tweet includes a Star Wars reference, in response to a different tweet about the initiative.) 

As part of the ballot initiative process, Idaho law calls on Idaho’s attorney general to review ballot initiatives “for matters of substantive import and shall recommend to the petitioner such revision or alteration of the measure as may be deemed necessary and appropriate.”

The Idaho Capital Sun requested an interview with Labrador on Thursday afternoon to ask if he has already taken a position on the ballot initiative and if his tweet calling for his followers to “defeat these bad ideas” would affect his review of the ballot initiative. 

Labrador did not respond to the questions prior to the Sun’s deadline.

Labrador wasn’t the only prominent Idaho Republican to criticize the open primary initiative. 

Dorthy Moon Idaho
Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon was elected to lead the Idaho GOP in 2022. (Courtesy of Dorothy Moon)

The people of Idaho’s elected representatives enacted a statutory defense of ‘one person, one vote,’” Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon wrote in a written statement released Thursday. “Now a leftist group is bringing this initiative to repeal ‘one person, one vote’ and replace it with a complicated scheme of ranked multi-voting, where voters choose multiple candidates and their votes are tabulated in a hidden process. This method favors Democrats where it has been used.”

“Idaho’s system works without importing leftist ideas from Oakland or Brooklyn,” Moon added.

Efforts to reach Moon on Thursday afternoon were also unsuccessful. 

Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, sent an email to his supporters Wednesday morning calling on them to fight the ballot initiative. 

Lenney pointed out the Republican-controlled Idaho Legislature had recently passed a law, House Bill 179, that is designed to prohibit ranked choice voting. 

If the new open primary initiative qualifies for the ballot and is approved by more than 50% of the voters, it would repeal the Idaho Legislature’s law prohibiting ranked choice voting. 

In the email, Lenney told his supporters that “war is upon us.”

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“They want Idaho to be the third state to use ‘Ranked Choice voting’ (which produces moderate/liberal candidates) and get rid of our closed primaries (which interferes with party dynamics),” Lenney wrote in the email.

Next, we’ll see ballot initiatives to legalize weed, and then, abortion,” Lenney added. “I guarantee it… This is why you must be vigilant. This isn’t something I do for you (or, any elected official). This is something WE ALL DO together. So you have to get involved in any way you can. If not… Idaho *WILL* become the next Colorado (a leftist utopia). Do you want your family to live in a red state flipped blue? Can you imagine?”


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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.