Election Reform: Results



Of the many election reform proposals before the Legislature this year, the discussion of how open or closed Idaho’s primary elections should be became one of the major issues of the session. The views of the147 randomly assigned members of The Common Interest of this issue literally drove the debate. Despite all of that, The Common Interest position did not prevail. However, neither did the proposals we opposed. There will almost certainly be more action on this topic in the future and number of influential leaders think our position will ultimately be adopted. With the exception of Robocalls, we didn’t have much success on the other election reform measures we examined, though there are also some substantial possibilities for future progress on some of these. Below are more details about where our members came out and what happened in the Legislature followed by our brief on election reform issues.

Open vs. Closed Primaries Poll Results and Legislative Action

Our members overwhelmingly opposed (93% to 7%) closing primary elections to everyone but registered members of given party, thus shutting out independents altogether. This proposal died quickly. We also overwhelming opposed (91% to 9%) giving parties the discretion to allow or prohibit independents to participate in their primary, which helped defeat that proposal. We supported (79% to 21%) modified closed primaries in which registered members of parties could vote only in their party’s primary, but independents would be able to vote in the primary of their choice. This support put us at the center of the deliberations over primaries. Drawing on input from legislative leaders, individual legislators, the Governor, the Secretary of State, Idaho county clerks, and the state chairs of the Republican and Democratic parties, we drafted two different modified closed primary bills. The final version, which would have kept private independents’ choice of party primary private and would have delayed implementation to the 2010 primary, may well have had the support of a majority of Senators and Representatives. However, we found a way of protecting independents privacy too late in the session to get anywhere with it. The forum for this discussion will now shift to the Idaho Central Committee of the Republican party which will consider whether to close their primary outright. Conventional wisdom is that they will, recognizing that, in the likely view of the U.S. Supreme Court, party rules on this count would trump state law. A number of Republican leaders may try to persuade the Republican Central Committee to hold off on this decision in order to give the Legislature another chance to pass the bill that we drafted next session. If that fails court action on this matter is likely. In any scenario, there are routes by which our position has a good chance to prevail. Stay tuned.

Coverage of Our Primaries Work in the News Media

The extent to which the views of our 147 members on this topic drove the debate was truly remarkable. There were two meetings in the Governor’s office to discuss our proposal and explore ways to advance it. Besides the Governor, the participants included Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, the Republican Senate and House leadership, and Republican state party chairman Kirk Sullivan.

We also garnered more media coverage on this than any other issue, including property taxes, that we’ve pursued in our short history. Most daily newspapers in the state ran opinion pieces on their editorial pages in addition to running several articles on our work. We also received extensive, positive coverage on Idaho Public Television’s Idaho Reports. It’s particularly worth watching. Below are links to some of the most interesting coverage.

Other Election Reform Issues

  • Vote by Mail: Although we supported (86% to 14%) this proposal by all 44 county clerks it died an ignoble death in the House. In spite of additional support from Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and from former Republican Gov. Phil Batt and former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus and in spite of an 11 to 7 vote in support of it in the House State Affairs, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee successfully moved on the floor of the House to send this bill back to committee to consider some issues he claimed had not been adequately addressed in the first committee hearing. Although he promised another hearing to address these issues and many weeks in the legislative session remained, he never held the promised hearing, thereby killing the bill. This proposal may come back at some point, though it looks unlikely to pass the Legislature any time soon, in part because there is also substantial opposition to it in the Senate.
  • Instant Runnoff Voting: We supported this, particularly adopting it in time for the 2010 election (80% to 20%). While there was substantial interest in this from many, the idea was a major change. As the only ones advocating it, we did not get sufficient traction early enough to get it through this year. We will continue to pursue it in the hopes of passing it next year.
  • Robo Calls: We supported (93% to 7%), this measure which requires that the person or entity for whom the call is being made is identified at the beginning of the call. It passed the House and the Senate overwhelmingly and was signed into law. Though our support was helpful, it almost certainly would have passed without our help.
  • Public Campaign Financing: We supported (80% to 20%) this measure to provide qualifying candidates the option of using public financing for their campaign if they agree to accept limitations on campaign spending. The Senate committee defeated this bill before we had our results. There is some prospect that with some changes to the bill and with our help this might get more support next session.