Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s office submitted revised ballot titles for a primary election ballot initiative Friday afternoon after being ordered to do so by the Idaho Supreme Court.
The ballot titles and Idaho Supreme Court case are related to a proposed ballot initiative designed to end Idaho’s closed party primary elections. Supporters are hoping to qualify the ballot initiative for the November 2024 general election.
The issue went to the Idaho Supreme Court after the groups Idahoans for Open Primaries and Reclaim Idaho filed a legal challenge alleging Labrador’s ballot titles were misleading and inaccurate. The groups also alleged Labrador has a personal bias against the ballot initiative after sending a May 2 tweet that said, in part, “Let’s defeat these bad ideas coming from liberal outside groups.”
Reclaim Idaho is the same group that backed the successful 2018 Medicaid expansion ballot initiative.
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What do the new ballot titles say?
The ballot titles are important because they explain to the public and voters what a ballot initiative is and what it does.
There are two ballot titles — a short ballot title of 20 words or less and a longer ballot title of 200 words or less.
In the new short ballot title, Labrador doesn’t use the phrase “nonparty blanket primary,” which the justices flagged in Thursday’s opinion as likely to cause prejudice against the initiative among people who have heard the term.
The new short title reads, “Measure to (1) replace voter selection of party nominees with a top-four primary; (2) require a ranked-choice voting system for general elections.”
The short ballot title, the longer ballot title and a short letter from Labrador to the clerk of the Idaho Supreme Court are available online.
Efforts to reach Idahoans for Open Primaries and Reclaim Idaho were not immediately successful Friday afternoon.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office issued a written statement about the Idaho Supreme Court opinion and the ballot titles late Thursday.
“While we are disappointed we did not win on all issues presented, we are pleased that the Idaho Supreme Court rejected most of Petitioners’ challenges,” communications director Beth Cahill said in the statement. “The Court held that the initiative does not propose an open primary and does propose ranked choice voting. We will promptly submit revised ballot titles accommodating the Idaho Supreme Court’s other holdings and in accordance with the Court’s schedule.”
Moving forward, Idahoans for Open Primaries and Reclaim Idaho have until May 1 to turn in signatures from 6% of Idaho voters statewide and 6% of voters in 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts. To meet the statewide total, the ballot initiative’s supporters will need to gather signatures from about 63,000 Idaho voters.
But supporters can’t begin the signature drive until the ballot titles are resolved and in place.
In anticipation of Labrador issuing new ballot titles, Idahoans for Open Primaries announced in a press release issued Thursday evening that it is scheduling signature drive kickoff events in 30 Idaho communities.
What would the open primary ballot initiative do?
If the ballot initiative qualifies for the November 2024 general election and is approved by a simple majority of voters, it would make changes to Idaho’s primary and general elections.
If approved, the ballot initiative would end Idaho’s closed party primary elections and replace them with a single primary election where all voters and all candidates would participate, regardless of party affiliation. The top four vote-getters would advance to the general election in November.
The ballot initiative would also change Idaho’s general election by creating an instant runoff or ranked choice system of voting. Under that system, Idahoans would vote for their favorite candidate. Voters would also have the option — but not be required to — to rank the remaining candidates in order of preference on their same ballot.
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If one candidate wins a simple majority of the votes, that candidate would be elected the winner. But if no candidate received a majority of votes, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated and their votes would instead be transferred to those voters’ second choice of candidate. That process would continue until one candidate has a majority of votes and is elected winner. Under that system, Idahoans would not need to vote more than once, and there would not be more than one election because the ranked choices voters marked on their ballots would determine any instant runoff elections.
Idaho has had a closed primary election law since 2011, which means that political parties don’t have to let voters who are not registered with their political party vote in their primary elections. The law also gives political parties the option to open their primary election to unaffiliated voters or voters from another political party, but to open their primary, the political party needs to formally notify the Idaho Secretary of State’s office.
During the most recent primary election in 2022, only the Idaho Democratic Party held an open primary, a spokeswoman from the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office previously told the Sun. The Republican, Libertarian and Constitution Party primaries were closed.