In this file photo, voters cast their ballots at Fairmont Junior High during the Idaho primary election on May 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Instead of voting in a presidential primary election, Idaho voters will pick their political party’s nominee for president in a series of presidential nominating caucuses in 2024.
That’s because during the 2023 session, the Idaho Legislature seemingly unintentionally eliminated the presidential primary election by passing House Bill 138.
The Idaho Legislature did not reinstate the presidential primary election by the Republican Party’s Oct. 1 deadline, so the state’s political parties will instead hold their own presidential nominating caucuses next year.
- The Idaho Republican Party will hold its presidential nominating caucuses March 2.
- The Idaho Democratic Party will hold its presidential nominating caucuses at 5 p.m. local time May 23.
There are several major differences between a presidential primary election and a political party’s caucus. Here’s what to know.
In a caucus, the votes will be counted by — and they’ll be run by — the respective political parties, not by state or county elections officials like they would during a presidential primary election. Neither political party has announced its specific caucus locations yet. Under the caucus rules, there will be at least one caucus site per county.
The caucuses are for the purpose of nominating the political parties’ presidential candidate. The caucuses are separate from Idaho’s 2024 primary election, which will take place May 21 – during the same week as the Democrats’ presidential nominating caucus. The Idaho 2024 primary election will include legislative primary races, with all 105 seats in the Idaho Legislature up for election in 2024.
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Idaho voters will notice differences between caucuses and primary elections
Idaho voters have caucused before. Republicans held a caucus in 2012, and Democrats held caucuses in 2012 and 2016. But both parties moved away from the caucus for several reasons, including the requirement to attend a caucus in person at a limited number of locations in each county at a specific date and time, as well as the overall time commitment involved. News articles from the 2016 Democratic caucus in Boise reported on voters waiting in line for hours outside before they could even enter the caucus site.
David Adler, a political scientist who has taught government and constitutional law at Idaho universities, said he was surprised the Idaho Legislature didn’t come up with a solution in a special legislative session to reinstate the presidential primary election.
“The question is why were they not interested in greater participation by the citizenry, because they had it within their power to accomplish that by reinstating the primary,” Adler said in a telephone interview.
For the Idaho Republican Party’s presidential caucus, all voters will have to attend in-person and be in line by the time the caucus is scheduled to begin in order to participate. In a caucus, there is not an option for absentee voting. There are also no exceptions or other voting options for active duty military members, missionaries, people who are working, people who are traveling, people who are ill, people who do not have access to transportation and people who are physically unable to attend in person during a caucus.
“That will be an inconvenience for a lot of people, and some won’t be able to do it because of the timing and difficulty of the caucus,” Adler said. “The biggest difference is the difficulty they will face in participating in the caucus. Convenience versus inconvenience is the first thing voters have to recognize.”
Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Jared DeLoof said Democrats are pursuing options to allow active duty military members who are unable to attend in person a way to participate.
“The Republicans and (Idaho GOP chairwoman) Dorothy Moon said there is not a way to be an active duty service member serving abroad and to participate in their caucus,” DeLoof told the Sun. “We are committed to finding a way.”
Jaclyn Kettler, associate professor of political science at Boise State University, said one argument in favor of caucuses is that they allow for more deliberation and engagement with candidates, campaigns and other voters. However, because of the time-consuming nature of the caucus and the in-person requirements, Kettler said the caucus will lead to lower voter turnout.
“Because primary elections generally reduce barriers to voting, they have higher turnout,” Kettler wrote in an email to the Sun. “In most presidential nominating contests, states with primary elections have higher turnout than those with caucuses.”
That’s been true in Idaho. For example, in the 2012 Republican caucus, about 44,672 voters participated, the Spokesman-Review reported. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary election, the number of voters increased to more than 225,000 voters, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.
Kettler and Adler said if the caucus goes poorly or is divisive, it has the potential to divide a political party or generate support for returning to the primary election system. Kettler said several states, including Iowa in 2020, have had issues counting and calculating the results in a caucus, citing a New York Times report.
Adler said the GOP presidential caucus could also backfire on Moon and Republicans if voters perceive the party is limiting voter participation.
“It may make the open primary ballot initiative all the more attractive to them because it will ensure their opportunity to play a bigger role in our democratic system,” Adler said.
Idaho Republicans presidential nominating caucus set for Saturday, March 2
The Republican caucus will take place March 2, likely at 10 a.m. local time, with at least one caucus location per county.
Moon opposed efforts to move the state’s presidential primary election back to May and said the earlier March caucus date will allow Idaho Republican voters to be among the first states to weigh in on the 2024 presidential race.
“Rather than waiting until May, when the nomination will be all but over, Idaho will be the fifth state in the nation to allocate its delegates,” Moon wrote in an Oct. 9 column. “That means that whoever wins Idaho will have the early momentum that is so important for winning the nomination.”
To participate in the Republican caucus, voters must be a registered voter and affiliate with the Idaho Republican Party by Dec. 31, Moon wrote in the Oct. 9 column. Voters who turn 18 between Jan. 1 and the March 2 caucus will be able to participate in the caucus if they sign an affidavit declaring that they have registered to vote and affiliated with the Idaho Republican Party within that time period, according to Rule 2023-11 that the Idaho Republican Party passed during its summer meeting.
After speeches or video messages by the Republican presidential candidates or their representatives, voters will each receive a ballot, move to a voting area and then deposit their marked ballots into a ballot box, according to Rule 2023-11. Ballots will be counted at each caucus site, with the results phoned to the Idaho Republican Party’s local county chairperson and then on to the Idaho Republican Party’s state chairperson.
Moon said families with children will be welcome at the GOP caucuses.
“Today, a caucus is a perfect opportunity to come together as a community to discuss the issues that are most important to us all,” Moon wrote. “We will be hosting hundreds of caucuses throughout the state, bringing national politics to your front door. We will be meeting in schools, fire stations, granges, churches, and other community centers throughout Idaho.”
Idaho Democrats plan presidential caucus for Thursday, May 23
The Idaho Democratic Party’s presidential caucus will begin at 5 p.m. local time May 23.
House Assistant Minority Leader Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said Democrats did not want to caucus and pushed to reinstate a presidential primary election through the Legislature. Now, Democrats are trying to do everything they can to create a caucus that is short and feels as much like voting in a traditional primary election.
“This is not our preferred way of letting Idahoans’ voices be heard in this process,” Necochea, who is also chairwoman of the Idaho Democratic Party, told the Sun. “We know it is burdensome for people to participate in an hours-long process, and that is why we are choosing this simplified version of a caucus, where people cast their ballots and then go home.”
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Because of Democratic National Committee rules, voters who participate in the Idaho Democratic Party’s presidential caucus will have to participate as Democrats, DeLoof said.
Unaffiliated voters will be allowed to participate in the Democratic presidential caucus if they commit to not voting in another political party’s caucus and to participate as Democrats, DeLoof said.
The Democrats will accept same-day voter registration at the caucus sites and allow people to participate if they will be 18 by the Nov. 5, 2024, general election and publicly declare themselves to be participating as Democrats.
There won’t be any speeches during the Democrats caucus, which will also include a ballot to select state delegates to the Idaho Democratic Party’s 2024 state convention in Moscow.
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