Idaho primary election ballot initiative will allow independent voters to finally have a say

The proposal encourages voters to learn about all candidates instead of voting for a specific party, write guest columnists Jerry and Carrie Scheid.

August 21, 2023 4:00 am
Voters fill out their ballots at O'Connor Field House in Caldwell, Idaho

Voters fill out their ballots at O’Connor Field House in Caldwell, Idaho, on November 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for the Idaho Capital Sun)

Jerry: I hear some folks are doing a ballot initiative asking voters if Idaho should change to an “open primary.”

Carrie: Yes. Their ballot initiative will end Idaho’s closed Republican primary and create a non-partisan primary open to all voters whether they are affiliated with a party or not.

Jerry: So that means the 270,000 Idahoans who are “independents” would get to vote in the primary?

Carrie: Yes. Parties would no longer control the election process.

Jerry: What elections qualify for this open primary?

Carrie: All partisan elections except for the U.S. president and precinct committee officers. It doesn’t apply to non-partisan elections like mayor, city council and school boards.

Idaho AG Raúl Labrador provides new ballot titles for open primary initiative 

Jerry: How does it work?

Carrie: Any registered voter can vote in the May primary for their favorite candidate. The top four vote-getters advance to the general election.

Jerry: How do candidates get on the ballot?

Carrie: Anyone who meets Idaho’s requirements to run for public office can file. They can list their party affiliation or run as an independent. Write-ins are also permitted.

Jerry: Sounds like you could end up with lots of candidates?

Carrie: Yes. In fact, you could have multiple Republicans or Democrats running.

Jerry: But only the top four vote-getters move onto the general election?

Carrie: Yes.

Jerry: What happens in the November general election?

Carrie: That’s when “ranked choice voting” comes in. Voters get to rank the four candidates in order of preference: first, second, third and fourth choice. Then, the vote counters tally everyone’s first choice. The candidate with the least amount of votes is immediately eliminated.

Jerry: What happens next?

Carrie: Let’s say candidates A, B, C and D are running and D has the least amount of votes. So, D is eliminated. If you voted for D but made B as your second choice, your vote moves to B.

Jerry: Now it’s down to three candidates, A, B and C. Once again, the candidate with the least votes gets eliminated.

Carrie: Let’s say candidate B has the least votes of the three. If you voted for B, the vote counters would move your vote to A or C, depending on which one was your next choice.

Jerry: Once it’s down to two candidates, A and C, the one with the most votes wins the election.

Jerry: Sounds like it’s more work for the vote counters?

Carrie: Yes. But it’s actually pretty easy for the voter. All they have to do is rank the four candidates as No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4.

Jerry: What happens if you vote for only one candidate?

Carrie: If you vote for only one candidate and they are eliminated, your vote will not move on. That’s what happens in our current election system. You choose one candidate, and if you didn’t vote for the winner, it’s over.

Jerry: What I like about the ranked choice vote system is this: It encourages voters to learn about all the candidates instead of just voting for a specific party. It has worked very well in Alaska and Maine. But I bet the extreme right-wing leaders of the Republican Party of Idaho won’t like it.

Carrie: Here’s the problem with the closed Republican primary: A tiny percentage of voters decide who gets elected as our legislators or state officeholders. For example, in Bonneville County, only 32% of registered voters participated in the May 2022 primary elections.

Jerry: And in our one-party dominated state, the winners of the May Republican primary generally win the November elections.

Carrie: The new system will allow independent voters to finally have a say about who gets to run in November. That will allow us to elect more independent-minded leaders who focus on solving problems, rather than wasting time on culture wars that turn us against each other.

Jerry: Reminds me of what someone once said, “The first duty of a person is to think for themselves.”


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Jerry and Carrie Scheid
Jerry and Carrie Scheid

Jerry is a retired farmer/rancher and native Idahoan. Carrie is a retired nonprofit administrator.