Because the Democrats can’t win on their ideas, they now want to blow up all political parties.

At Sandpoint Farmer’s Market last weekend, the back of the Reclaim Idaho ballot initiative clipboards read “Open Primaries Initiative”. But, the initiative is not actually for an “open primary”. An open primary is a particular political party’s nomination election in which voters from other parties can participate. The result of the election is the selection of the nominees for a particular political party who will be the candidates on the general election ballot for that political party.

Idaho used to have open primaries in the early 2000’s until the Idaho Republican Party changed its rules and sued the state. A federal court stopped Idaho from having open primaries on the basis that the 1st amendment recognizes the right of people to affiliate with a party, and the party gets to determine who its members are.

Currently, Idaho’s May primary election every two years is a political party primary election. The general election nominees of each party are chosen by each party’s voters in the May primary election. The winner of the primary election becomes the nominee of the party.

Reclaim Idaho, a progressive Democrat organization, wants to eliminate political parties altogether. Their ballot initiative will eliminate May’s party nomination primary election and change it to a “top four” primary election in which the top four candidates for an office, regardless of their party affiliation, advance to the general election. It is not an “open primary”.

All four candidates that advance could be of the same party. There already are rarely more than four people running for most offices in the May primary election. Arguably, changing to a top four primary eliminates the need for a primary election altogether. Since no political party nominees are chosen, the political parties become irrelevant, and the right of affiliation in the 1st amendment is nullified.

The top four primary eliminates assurance to general election voters that any vetting of party affiliation has occurred. Since most candidates advance to the general election regardless of the candidate’s choice of party affiliation, voters won’t know if that candidate faithfully aligns with a party’s philosophy.

If Reclaim Idaho’s ballot initiative was successful, candidates will merely change party affiliation to what they think is most strategic to their success with the general election voters in November.

For example, in much of Ada County, especially Boise, why run with any party affiliation other than Democrat? For Bonner and Boundary Counties, why identify on the general election ballot as anything other than a Republican? Party involvement and vetting of candidates’ party affiliation is removed by the initiative.

To a few voters, this will be seen as an advantage, but in every democratic system around the world there have always been political parties and vetted candidates. This is because no one wins political battles standing alone and independently.

Politics, like sports and war, is a team effort. Success is obtained in numbers by forming political alliances with like-minded individuals. Political parties are vehicles for forming strategic political alliances around shared values and shared political goals. These alliances are necessary since winning in politics is a numbers game.

Reclaim Idaho’s ballot initiative destroys other advantages of our current May party nomination elections. For example, if a party nominee, after the May primary, withdraws, dies, or ceases to run in the general election for any reason, the political party currently has an exclusive right to replace their nominee by appointment. This happened in Idaho’s 2022 election cycle when Democrat Steven Scanlin was the May primary winner and Democratic nominee for attorney general. After he withdrew in the summer before the November general election, the Democratic Party appointed Tom Arkoosh to run in his stead.

This party replacement provision is eliminated in the top four primary scheme. If a leading candidate withdraws, the remaining candidates fill the void, and that candidate is not replaced.

The ballot initiative is significantly compounded by its second aspect, ranked choice voting (RCV) in the general election. RCV is an instant runoff scheme of multiple rounds of voting that could result in a first-round winner losing the general election.

For example, FDR could receive 40% in the first round of counting, Mao 31% and Stalin 29%. After last-placed Stalin is dropped and his 2nd round votes automatically re-distributed, Mao could end up beating first-round winner FDR. This is especially likely if FDR’s supporters were not willing to rank Mao or Stalin but Stalin and Mao’s supporters were willing to compromise and rank other candidates except FDR.

Ranked choice voting gives more power to voters who are willing to compromise some of their principles in choosing candidates versus other voters who won’t compromise. The voters who rank more candidates have more rounds where their votes are counted. Whereas, the non-compromising voters’ votes may not be counted in the second and subsequent rounds of instant runoff.

Also, in a normal runoff, the results of round 1 may impact how voters would vote in a second round. But ranked choice voting, or instant runoff voting, does not grant to voters the ability to consider this new information before making their decision in the next round.

Ranked choice voting forces voters to make decisions for every round of counting before knowing the results of any round of counting. That fundamentally disrespects how humans make decisions.

Voters make more strategic decisions in each round of voting when they have all the information available before the vote. Sometimes a voter chooses a candidate because the candidate is the best candidate ever, and sometimes voters strategically choose a candidate as the lesser of two evils or the best of what is left. Ranked choice voting eliminates these real time and real life considerations.

The ranked choice voting also introduces two constitutional legal challenges if the initiative is successful at the polls in November 2024.

First, the Idaho constitution states that the state’s executive officers like governor, secretary of state and attorney general win office when they receive the most votes in an election. A strict interpretation means they win with a plurality that could be less than 50%. The ranked choice voting initiative exceeds the constitutional requirement and triggers instant runoffs until a majority is reached, which is a standard of 50% plus one and higher than the constitution requires.

Another significant constitutional challenge if the initiative is successful involves the redistricting commission. The Idaho constitution grants to the two largest parties the ability to assign members of the redistricting commission. If party nomination is no longer a part of how legislators are elected, then the constitutional provision that the legislature’s two dominant parties have selections for the redistricting process is no longer able to be faithfully interpreted for the provision of selecting redistricting commission members. This makes the provisions of the constitution for the selection of the redistricting commission almost meaningless.


Idaho Freedom Caucus and the Republican Party.

I am a member of the Idaho Freedom Caucus (IFC), which is a caucus within the Republican caucus. Several current Idaho legislators in the House and Senate formed IFC specifically because when parties think it is only about the Big Tent, then the party ceases to stand on anything that is valuable about the party system.

The Idaho Freedom Caucus contains Idaho’s most conservative Republican lawmakers.

I’d rather have more parties that stand on their platform of principled values than two big parties that stand for nothing.

Fortunately, today’s Idaho Republican Party is also standing firm on its platform. As a party we are rejecting this Reclaim Idaho ballot initiative scheme. Reclaim is only running this because their ideas are significantly out of step with Idaho’s values. And since they can’t win on their values, they want to destroy the current election system.

Help spread the word now that we need to defeat this ballot initiative. It will be one of the big fights of 2024 with the voters.