The Open Primary Initiative is the voice of the people of Idaho, not a “malicious conspiracy”
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The Open Primary Initiative is the voice of the people of Idaho, not a “malicious conspiracy”

The Open Primary Initiative, which was approved by the secretary of state for the November ballot, is just the latest initiative in a long and rich history of citizen initiatives in Idaho.

As Dorothy Moon, chairwoman of the Idaho Republican Party, said, this is not a “harmful conspiracy.”

In short, the Open Primaries Initiative asks voters to approve a new system of open primaries and four-way general elections with ranked-choice voting. If approved by a majority of voters, the initiative would open primaries to all candidates, regardless of political party or affiliation.

It would eliminate the Republican Party’s closed primaries, which are especially prized by far-right figures like Moon.

After the primary, the four candidates with the most votes will advance to the general election in November using a system of “ranked preference voting,” in which voters rank their candidate choices in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and their votes go to the candidate who is the voters’ second choice. This process repeats until there are two candidates left. The candidate with the most votes wins.

This initiative deserves debate, and we will be contributing to that debate in the coming months leading up to the November elections.

In the meantime, let us remember that citizen initiatives have a rich history in Idaho, and the Open Primary Initiative is a fitting example of the use of this power as intended by the framers of the Idaho Constitution.

“The people reserve to themselves the right to propose laws and pass them by ballots independent of the legislature,” according to Section 1 of Article III of the constitution. “This power is known as the initiative, and the lawful electors may, upon such terms and in such manner as the acts of the legislature may prescribe, initiate any desired legislation, and cause the same to be submitted to a vote of the people at a general election, for their approval or rejection.”

The same paragraph also provides for a referendum, i.e. a vote of the people “for the purpose of approving or rejecting by vote any act or measure passed by the legislative body.”

Idaho Initiatives

Over the past 88 years, just 30 initiatives have reached the ballot and only half have been approved.

You may not know this, but the first effective law passed by Idaho voters was the establishment of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission in 1938.

In 1974, Idaho passed the Sunshine Law on political funds and lobbying disclosures as a result of a citizen initiative. (You can see why legislators aren’t so quick to pass something like that.)

The now popular exemption of homeowners from property tax, passed in 1982, is also due to a citizens’ initiative.

The Idaho Lottery Commission was established on its own initiative in 1986.

Most recently, in 2018, voters approved Medicaid expansion by a 60 percent majority after Idaho’s Republican legislators failed to pass the bill for several years.

Today, getting an initiative on the ballot is not an easy hurdle to overcome. Not at all.

Idaho law requires organizers to collect signatures from 6% of Idaho voters registered in the last election, as well as 6% of registered voters in at least 18 of the state’s 35 precincts.

Open Primaries organizers collected more than 97,000 signatures, of which 75,000 were ultimately selected, verified by county officials and certified Wednesday by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Referendums in Idaho

Since 1936, Idaho voters have put six such proposals to referendum.

In 1936, voters rejected a law establishing a 2% sales tax.

Thirty years later, in 1966, lawmakers agreed to implement a 3% sales tax.

In 2012, Idaho voters used a referendum to overturn the so-called “Luna Bills,” championed by then-Director of Public Education Tom Luna, to fund public education. The bills were clearly not well-received.

It is important to remember that just because the Open Primaries Initiative is on the ballot does not mean it is approved and will become Idaho law. It now needs to win a majority vote on all ballots statewide on November 5th, when everyone’s voices will be heard.

Imagine that.

Initiatives often make it to the ballot when Idaho citizens, wanting to make our state a better place, take action that the legislature refuses to take.

And then the initiative gives voters the opportunity to make a decision.

This sounds like democracy to us.

This is not a harmful conspiracy.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman editorial board. Board members include opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser, and community members Greg Lanting, Terri Schorzman and Garry Wenske.