Last year, the Idaho Republican Party changed its presidential candidate selection system from a primary to a closed caucus format. That move could have a ripple effect and may aid in a push to change the state’s primary election from May to August.
The House State Affairs Committee unanimously approved a bill Thursday doing just that, with the legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, telling committee members that the idea would allow lawmakers time to deal with legislative work before beginning campaigns.
“There’s no longer a need for a May primary,” Loertscher explained. GOP officials created their caucus and scheduled it for early March hoping to attract presidential candidates’ attention to the state. Without presidential hopefuls on the ballot in May, Loertscher feels there’s just no reason to hold the contest then.
Idaho Democrats already held its own caucus prior to the GOP's switch.
If approved, the primary election in even-numbered years would come on the first Tuesday in August after the first Monday in the same month. This year, that date would be Aug. 7.
Also helping this push is the Idaho Supreme Court’s invalidation of the new legislative map redistricting commissioners authored last year. The commission must soon be reconvened to build a new plan, though no one is sure how long that might take.
Some officials in the state, including county clerks, are worried the commission’s work could push up against filing deadlines, set to begin Feb. 15. Loertscher said the later primary would give clerks more time to prepare ballots, though the timing isn’t perfect. “They’re (clerks) not wild about it because it falls within their budget time,” he said, adding that he believes clerks have plenty of time to prepare their yearly spending and revenue plans.
There are concerns over the proposed plan, however. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa fears that the move could drive down voter turnout. Rep. Eric Anderson,R-PriestLake, is worried the August election would unnecessarily elongate campaigns. “I think this change would actually prolong campaigns because you’d run your primary until August,”Andersonsaid.
The bill will receive further committee hearings in coming weeks. GOP executive director Jonathan Parker attended the hearing, but declined to take a position on the primary election move.