Outsmarting Extremism: How An Open Primary with Ranked Choice Voting Can Restore Integrity in Idaho Elections

We often hear about the growing threat of extremism and the influence of out-of-state financing on our local politics. These issues have prompted conversations about how we can reform our electoral system to better represent the people of Idaho. With the threat of armed stand-offs, intentional destruction of beloved institutions, and near constant misinformation campaigns from groups with ties to dangerous rhetoric, it’s time to act. With the current voting systems in place, it won’t be long before the state loses its ability to form a representative government that is for the people and not for some small group of people. The integrity of our election process could fail when those who control the process have none.

Fortunately a new voter initiative has formed to shore up the integrity of our election process by opening up the primary elections and adding ranked choice voting.

The Advantages of Open Primaries

Open primaries are elections in which any registered voter can participate, regardless of political affiliation. This system encourages broader voter participation and helps to ensure that candidates represent the interests of all Idahoans. Idaho closed the primary elections in 2011 and over the years the as the far right attempted to gain more control over the party, they pushed legislation to limit who could vote and attempted to push purity tests on candidates so local party bosses could choose their favorites to be on the ballot. This abuse of the system while legal, excluded the majority of voters from wanting to participate in a primary, especially when nasty and dishonest campaigning tactics were deployed.

Opening the Idaho Primary elections not only saves tax payers a millions of dollars each election (a conservative value), it ensures candidates are not so tied to one group that demands their loyalty as they need to form a broad coalition of voters that includes independents to win an election.

Broader Voter Participation

Attracting Independent and Moderate Voters

In Idaho’s current closed primary system, only voters affiliated with a specific party can participate in that party’s primary. This approach excludes independent and moderate voters from the decision-making process, leading to candidates who don’t necessarily represent the broader electorate.

In a recent article from the Idaho Capital Sun, Former Republican Speaker of the Idaho House, Bruce Newcomb, stated, “This is a simple, common-sense reform that will give us better elections and better leadership.” By opening primaries to all registered voters, we can attract independent and moderate voters, resulting in candidates with broader appeal.

Encouraging More Republicans to Participate in Primary Elections

A closed primary system can discourage some Republicans from voting if they feel they must choose between remaining neutral and affiliating with a political party. Longtime eastern Idaho television anchor Karole Honas explained, “In Bingham County, if I wanted to vote, I had to vote in the Republican primary because that was the only game in town. It didn’t feel right.” Open primaries would eliminate this dilemma, encouraging more Republicans to participate in primary elections.

Encouraging Civil Discourse and Collaboration

Promoting Healthy Debate on Issues and Policy

Open primaries can foster healthier debate on issues and policy, as candidates must appeal to a broader range of voters. This approach can reduce the influence of extremist elements within the party and promote collaboration between candidates. Candidates are now able to talk about all the important issues that impact the state, not just the talking points created by groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation and their out of state donor networks. All Idahoans deserve the freedom to have their voices heard on multiple issues that are important to them. Public lands, water rights, property taxes, and health care are topics that are regularly ignored because conflict entrepreneurs focus on culture wars instead of things that really matter to the people who live in the real world.

Reducing the Influence of Extremist Elements within the Party

By opening primaries to all voters, candidates must appeal to a wider audience, reducing the influence of extremist elements. This change can help ensure that elected officials truly represent the interests of Idahoans and encourage more moderate and reasonable policymaking.

Extremism thrives when conflict is used to push normal people away. Giving more voters a say in who represents them is a threat to the power and control structures extremist groups use to thrive and enrich themselves with influence and funding.

Focusing on Local Issues and Priorities

Reducing the Impact of Out-of-State Financing on Idaho Politics

Open primaries can help reduce the influence of out-of-state financing on Idaho politics by encouraging candidates to focus on local issues and priorities. Candidates would need to appeal to a wider range of voters, ensuring that their campaigns address the concerns of Idahoans rather than the agendas of out-of-state donors. With an open primary, Idaho issues come before what some billionaire in Michigan wants. Idaho education and health care issues gains more attention over culture wars that favor solution in search of problem bill mill manufactured policy. Voters can slowly re-gain trust in those who represent them because they have to focus on them instead of some out of state dark money group who does not care about them at all.

Ensuring that Idaho Republican Candidates Represent the True Interests of Idahoans

By opening the primaries, candidates would need to appeal to the broader electorate, making it more likely that they will represent the true interests of Idahoans. This change would create a more responsive and accountable political system. With a broader appeal to independent voters, local businesses and donors will have better options on who to support as more candidates will chose outreach over exclusion.

Understanding Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked choice voting is an alternative voting method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. This system can promote candidates with broader appeal and consensus support, reduce the impact of negative campaigning, and encourage better candidates to run for office. Voters are encouraged to learn more about candidates so they can rank their preference based on the values that impact them.

How Ranked Choice Voting Works

Ranking Candidates in Order of Preference

In a ranked choice voting system, voters rank the candidates in order of preference. If a candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, they win the election. If not, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on the voters’ next preferences. This process continues until a candidate receives a majority of the vote.

For example, if an Idaho Republican voter is interested in a common sense voice to represent their needs and values, and there are five candidates running (3 Republican and 2 Democrat) in that district, they would rank the candidates in the order that they believe best represents them. They might pick a more conservative candidate as their top pick, a moderate as their second a democrat as their third and a far right IFF backed candidate as their fourth. This empowers voters to not just hold their noses and vote for the least worst option, but really have a say in how their vote is counted.

Ensuring Majority Support for Elected Officials

Ranked choice voting ensures that the winning candidate has majority support from the electorate. This system can help to promote consensus and collaboration in the political process, as elected officials will have the backing of a broad range of voters.

Ranked choice voting and open primaries are going to get hammered by far right groups because they pose a threat to the way they do business. Many candidates backed by the Idaho Freedom Foundation did not have majority support, only the majority of the lowest percentage of voters they could muster. Many far right candidates are despised by the majority of resident in their district and are excluded from having a say because they choose to remain independent. A open primary with a ranked choice system ensures every registered voter has a say in who represents them.

If you believe some critics, ranked choice voting (RCV) is a partisan Democratic scheme cooked up to “rig” American elections and handicap conservative and Republican candidates. These claims are bunk. RCV is a modest procedural reform aimed at somewhat improving the match between voter preferences and electoral outcomes, with implications that are neutral as between left and right. It’s part of a category of electoral reforms that have drawn interest for centuries from scholars, very much including free‐​market economists.

Walter Olson
Senior Fellow, Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute

The Benefits of Ranked Choice Voting

Promoting Candidates with Broader Appeal and Consensus Support

Ranked choice voting encourages candidates to appeal to a wider range of voters, as they must seek support beyond their base. This approach can lead to more moderate and consensus-driven candidates who better represent the interests of all Idahoans. Common sense and practical solutions are often rewarded with votes in an open election.

Fiscal conservatism and classic ideas of limited government thrive when presented with realistic solutions to actual challenges Idahoans face each day. This helps prevent distracting, bright shiny rage messaging from overshadowing the problems of schools that are literally falling apart.

Consensus-building candidate choices help employers and small business owners who worry about being casualties of culture wars that prevent them from being able to attract qualified workers to this state.

Reducing Negative Campaigning

Ranked choice voting can help to reduce negative campaigning, as candidates are incentivized to build coalitions and find common ground with their opponents. By seeking second- and third-choice votes, candidates are less likely to engage in negative attacks against their rivals.

Encouraging Qualified Candidates to Run for Office

Ranked choice voting can encourage more qualified and diverse candidates to run for office, as the system removes the fear of “spoiler” candidates splitting the vote. This change can lead to a more representative political process in Idaho. The current system is often exploited by special interest groups who back candidates who are loyal to them without checking to see if they are qualified to to the job.

The Path to Implementing Open Primaries and Ranked Choice Voting in Idaho

The Ballot Initiative Process

Collecting Signatures and Raising Awareness

To implement open primaries and ranked-choice voting in Idaho, a ballot initiative must be proposed, and enough signatures must be collected to qualify for the ballot. Supporters of these reforms must work together to raise awareness and gather signatures to bring these changes to Idaho’s electoral system.

The only group in Idaho to have success with ballot initiatives in the past few years has been Reclaim Idaho. Their organization has the structure and people on the ground needed to knock on doors and collect signatures. While they have typically been used to push policies favored by Democrats, this non-partisan effort has the backing of long-time Idaho Republicans who are tired of the drama caused by far-right conflict entrepreneurs.

Voting on the Initiative

Once the ballot initiative has qualified, Idahoans will have the opportunity to vote on the proposed changes. By voting in favor of the initiative, Idaho residents can help create a more inclusive and representative political process and open up the primary elections so everyone gets to enjoy the freedom and liberty that comes with voting in a constitutional republic.

Building a Coalition of Support

Engaging Republicans, Independents, and Democrats

To successfully implement open primaries and ranked-choice voting, a broad coalition of support must be built, including Republicans, Independents, and Democrats. By working together, we can ensure that Idaho’s political system is more responsive and accountable to the needs of its citizens. This is not about who is or is not a conservative. This is not a liberal agenda like the far right will keep saying. This is about ensuring that Idahoan’s God given rights that are protected by the constitution are upheld and not surpassed by a handful of wealthy zealots.

Educating Voters on the Benefits of Open Primaries and Ranked Choice Voting

Education is key to building support for these electoral reforms. By informing Idahoans about the benefits of open primaries and ranked-choice voting, we can help to create a more engaged and informed electorate, ready to embrace these changes for the betterment of our state. Unfortunately, educating voters has not been a priority for opponents of an open primary.

A closed system that relies on low-information voters who are groomed by far right networks to only get their political information from their networks surpasses the God-given rights of citizens who deserve to be well represented. Educating voters with factual data inoculates them from misinformation campaigns and empowers voters to have a bigger say in each election.

Restoring Integrity in the Idaho Election Process

The growing threat of extremism and the influence of out-of-state financing on Idaho politics are real concerns for many Idahoans. By implementing open primaries and ranked-choice voting, we can create a more representative, and accountable political system that truly serves the interests of all Idaho residents.

Idaho voters deserve truth and integrity. They deserve a representative government that truly represents them.

Through this ballot initiative, Idahoans will have the opportunity to shape their political future and even help create a stronger, more united Idaho Republican Party.

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