Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Goodbye Idaho Presidential Primary

On Thursday of last week (March 1), Idaho Governor Butch Otter (R) signed into law H391. The measure after sailing comfortably through the chamber of origin and meeting some resistance in the Senate, strikes from the regular May primary ballot the line devoted to the presidential preference vote. Given that the Idaho Republican Party abandoned the primary last year in order to hold an earlier caucus -- something Democrats in the Gem state have traditionally done -- the presence on the May ballot of the presidential preference line was superfluous.

Idaho joins Washington and Kansas as states to have eliminated their presidential primaries for the 2012 cycle. However, Idaho is the only one of the three to have entirely ended the primary as an option. The Washington move to cancel the primary in the Evergreen state was one with the intent of only temporarily removing the option. That portion of the law will expire at the end of 2012 and Washington will revert to the previous law -- with the presidential primary -- for 2016 unless the legislature takes future action. In Kansas, the primary has and likely will continue to be on the books, but that contest has not been funded since 1992. The action in the Sunflower state is more of a recurring cancelation.

But Idaho is the only state to abandon the primary in favor of state party caucuses permanently -- or at least until any future action on that front. And that is a move contrary to the trajectory of the caucus/primary balance in the post-reform era. Since 1972 states have increasingly moved toward primaries and away from caucuses. Once that state-funded option is codified, state parties often have a difficult time of giving it up. In the case of Idaho Republicans, after witnessing the state legislature once again leave the primary in May -- outside of the typical window of decisiveness in any presidential campaign -- decided to not only shift to a caucus but to hold it early to allow Idaho caucusgoers an opportunity to have an impact on the race.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing along the news.

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