Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Fix is in for the Idaho Presidential Primary Bill

The days left in the 2023 regular session are winding down in the Idaho legislature. The body is targeting Friday, March 24 as its 75th and final day before it adjourns sine die. 

And one of the bills stuck in legislative limbo is H 138, legislation that would eliminate the separate March presidential primary election and merge it with the primaries for other offices in May. The measure had been on a fast track, passing the state House and getting through committee on the Senate side in the span of a few weeks. However, once it got to the state Senate floor, the bill was quickly shunted to the body's 14th order -- a working section of the chamber's calendar -- to be amended. 

The necessity of amendments was clear early on in the life of H 138. The measure lived up to the intent of its sponsors by eliminating the separate presidential primary and saving the state an estimated $2.7 million dollars on the budget in the process. But it failed to build back the requisite infrastructure that existed before 2012 when a consolidated primary, including the presidential preference vote, was the norm in Idaho. FHQ brought this issue up in its initial rundown of H 138 and the conflict was also raised in testimony to the Senate State Affairs Committee in a hearing before the panel passed the bill onto the floor for consideration. 

Of course, there is a richer politics behind the legislation as well. Cost savings are one thing. Incomplete provisions to match the true intent of the bill are another. But there is additional intra-party tension among Republicans in and out of Idaho that underpins the measure as well. The state Republican Party fought the shift from March to May in the Senate committee hearing and the Trump campaign is keeping a watchful eye on the move and other procedures Idaho may use in 2024 as well. That confluence of factors -- the limited number of days left in the legislative session, the need for amendment, the Republican infighting -- highlighted the fact that H 138's trip to the 14th order may have been more political than anything; that it was a sentence of purgatory for the short remainder of the term. 

However, that has not necessarily turned out to be the case. The same state Senate committee has introduced a separate bill -- S 1186 -- that amends and augments the original bill, adding the necessary provisions to include the presidential preference vote on the May consolidated primary ballot. 

And although a fix is in, that does not mean that the effort to consolidate the presidential primary with those elections in May is out of the woods yet. There will be a flurry of activity in the session's apparent final week, and there are two bills that will now have to pass the state Senate and one -- S 1186 -- that will have to go over to the House if it does pass the Senate (despite all of the other attendant conflicts described above). It is entirely possible that all of that gets done before Friday, March 24. It is also possible that one or both bills get derailed along the way, pushed to the back burner in the waning days of the session in favor of more pressing legislation. 

The bottom line on the precipice of that final week in Idaho? There is a workable path forward for a pair of bills now to eliminate the separate presidential primary in the Gem state and add the presidential preference vote to the existing May primary. But obstacles remain. 

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


See more on our political/electoral consulting venture at FHQ Strategies. 

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