Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Idaho Bill Aims to Consolidate Presidential Primary with Others in May

...but does it?

On Monday, February 13, Rep. Dustin Manwaring (R-29th, Pocatello), the majority caucus chair, introduced HB 138. The measure's stated purpose is to consolidate the separate presidential primary that currently falls on the second Tuesday in March and consolidate that election with the primaries for other offices that occur on the third Tuesday in May. Such a move would shift the Idaho presidential primary back into a position it has more often than not occupied during the post-reform era (when state parties have not opted out in favor of earlier caucuses). 

Combining the elections would also carry the benefit of saving the state an estimated $2.7 million to administer and audit. 

But the text of the introduced legislation is interesting. HB 138 would repeal all of portions of state election law that were added to the code when the stand-alone presidential primary was created in 2015. Moreover, all mentions of "presidential primary" are struck from other areas of the code with no other insertions with reference to president or presidential primary. 

Now, ordinarily all of that may be natural legislating to remove the separate presidential primary. In this case, however, it is not clear that anything is left behind to account for the addition of the presidential preference vote to the that May primary ballot. While the definition of "primary election" in 34-102 is broad in its application of "nominating persons as candidates of political parties for election to offices," the relevant part of the code describing which offices are to appear on the primary ballot -- 34-703 -- does not include president alongside "candidates for United States senator and representative in congress and all political party candidates for elective state, district and county offices."

This legislation may intend to eliminate the separate March presidential primary, but it is not clear that it would not eliminate the presidential part of the primary altogether. And Idaho has been down that road before. The Gem state struck the presidential-specific language from the May consolidated primary law in 2012 after both Democrats and Republicans in Idaho opted for caucuses during 2011. It would seem that HB 138 would need to reinsert the same language struck in 2012 back into the law in order to combine the presidential preference vote with the rest of the primaries in May. 

Otherwise, there would not appear to be an Idaho presidential primary in 2024 under the provisions of this legislation.

One additional footnote to add is that Idaho has to pay for the separate presidential primary and has left that funding to the last minute before. One option would be to starve the separate presidential primary by not funding it. But again, that does not seem to be the intent of the measure Rep. Manwaring has put forth. It does not appear to be an attempt to end the presidential primary and push the political parties to turn to caucuses.

This legislation has been added to FHQ's updated 2024 presidential primary calendar

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