The Next Big Win in Better Election Reform Could Come Where Voters Least Expect

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Created: 21 March, 2024
Updated: 01 April, 2024
3 min read

Photo Credit: Getty Images / Unsplash


Idaho isn't a state that gets much attention when people talk about politics in the US. However, this could change in 2024 if Idahoans for Open Primaries and their allies are successful with their proposed initiative.

The group's supporters are gathering signatures for a nonpartisan top-four primary with ranked choice voting in the general election -- a system Alaska voters approved in 2020. And, it reportedly is close to hitting its signature goal.

Idaho uses a semi-closed primary system. This gives the Republican and Democratic Parties autonomy to decide who can participate in their taxpayer-funded primary elections. 

There are approximately 270,000 independent voters in the state whose voting rights are subject to the whims of two private political corporations.

The initiative proposed by Idahoans for Open Primaries would replace this with a system that allows all voters and candidates, regardless of party affiliation or lack thereof, to participate on a single ballot.

The top four vote-getters then move on to the general election where voters would rank the candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority of first choice selections, a runoff is held that eliminates the last place candidate and tallies their voters' next choices.

The process continues until a candidate has over 50% of the vote. The new election system would apply to all state and non-presidential federal elections.

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Idaho is a solid-red state. Trump carried it with 64% of the vote in 2020. Both of the state's congressional districts are held by Republicans. So, the most critical stage of the elections process is the primary.

Some may consider this and think that advocates of nonpartisan primary reform want to diminish Republican control. However, many Republicans support the switch to a Top Four system.

"The right to vote is one of the most precious rights that Americans have," said former Republican Idaho Governor Butch Otter. 

"Every registered voter should have the right to weigh in on choosing our leaders. Independents, including a lot of military veterans, have been excluded from having their say because of the closed GOP primary.”

Otter and his wife, former Idaho First Lady Lori Otter, support the initiative. They are joined by roughly 120 other current and former Republican officials who are prominent figures in the state. 

Supporters of the Top Four initiative have until May 1 to collect valid signatures from 6% of Idaho's registered voting population, which must include 6% of registered voters in 18 of the state's 35 legislative districts.

In total, this amounts to about 63,000 signatures. 

With over a month to work with, supporters reportedly have gathered over 71,000 signatures in 17 of the 18 legislative districts needed and are close to the signatures needed in the final district.  

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“We’ve talked to independents, we’ve talked to Democrats, and we’ve talked to Republicans who are just frustrated with the direction that things have gone in Idaho this last decade with the closed primary,” said Amanda Stark of Mormon Women foe Ethical Government.

“They’re frustrated, and they feel like they don’t have a voice. People have said, ‘I don’t vote because I don’t have anybody to vote for.’” 

Mormon Women for Ethical Government is one of several groups and individuals who have joined the growing coalition behind the Top Four initiative.

If supporters of Top Four in Idaho are successful, the state will join Alaska as a model for the future of nonpartisan election reform in the US to give voters more choice, greater competition, and better accountability in elections.

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