Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, didn’t get support from his own committee Wednesday in his push to move legislative primary elections to August.
The House State Affairs Committee, a panel chaired by Loerstscher, voted down his measure after strong opposition from a number of county clerks and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.
Loertscher told his colleagues that the May primary election hampers legislators, who are typically required to be in the Statehouse from early January to late March or early April. He believes moving the primary back to August would allow lawmakers to focus on legislative work in the early months of the year and still run a full campaign later in the year.
But the measure received little support in public testimony. A number of county clerks, in town for meetings with the Idaho Association of Counties, told the panel that pushing the primary back would cause too much work in a year when they are facing numerous obstacles.
There have been a number of changes to Idaho’s voting methods in recent years. Last year, the Legislature approved closing the state’s primaries and the Idaho GOP decided to pick its presidential candidate through a caucus process. Additionally, clerks are also dealing with new legislative district maps, causing officials to find many new voting locations.
Ysursa opposed the bill due to workload concerns, but also believes a move to August would hurt Idaho’s already-slumping voter turnout. “Our turnout has been abysmal in primaries,” Ysursa said. “We need to crank that up.”
Ysursa says voter turnout for primaries stands at about 25 percent of voters, down from highs of 40 percent in the past. He feels the keeping the primaries in May will cut down on voter confusion in an already-complicated election year. “It’s better for voters, in my opinion,” Ysursa said. “It’s better on turnout.”
The only person to speak in favor of the measure was GOP operative Rod Beck, buoyed by a Republican state committee resolution in support of an August primary.
Shortly before the vote, Loertscher offered a dark forecast of the tally. “I don’t have any illusions about the outcome of this vote,” he said, adding he simply wanted the topic brought up. “This has been a healthy discussion.”
Only Loertscher and Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, voted for the bill.
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