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Presidential primaries in Idaho are (a little) complicated. Here’s what you need to know

East Idaho Elects

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Nearly 10 days later, politicians and politicos are still waiting to find out who really won — and lamenting everything that went wrong with — the first 2020 Democratic presidential caucus, held Feb. 3 in Iowa.

Could chaos like that trickle into Idaho’s presidential process this year? Probably not.

In each state, political parties select their presidential candidates in one of two ways: a caucus, during which voters gather in groups to make the choice, or by primary, a statewide election via private ballot. Then each state party takes its respective nominee to its national convention where a final candidate is selected for the November general election.

During 2016’s presidential campaign, 11 states held a caucus instead of a primary, including Idaho for Democratic nominees.

This year, just four states are holding caucuses. Fortunately, Idaho is not among them, so Idaho voters do not need fret about failed apps, jammed phone lines or long lines.

Following its 2016 presidential caucus, the Idaho Democratic Party State Central Committee unanimously decided to switch to a presidential primary election instead of a caucus.

“Caucuses are expensive, take a lot of resources to run and don’t enfranchise as many voters as primaries do,” said party spokesperson Lindsey Johnson. “We’re very excited to be switching to a primary and hope this change will be better for everyone.”

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Idaho’s presence in the primaries

So far, no Democratic presidential candidates have announced future campaign stops in Idaho, according to the Idaho Democratic Party.

Former Vice President Joe Biden visited Boise for a private fundraiser in August, and former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro visited Boise last February. Castro has since suspended his campaign and has endorsed candidate Elizabeth Warren.

Last month, Mike Bloomberg’s campaign announced plans to hire staff and open campaign offices in Idaho.

In Idaho’s March 21, 2016, Democratic presidential caucus, Bernie Sanders soundly defeated Hillary Clinton, winning 78% of the vote. Clinton received 21%.

Enormous turnout delayed the start of the caucus by more than two hours in Boise, as Ada County Democrats lined up around the block, some waiting up to three hours to enter the caucus held at the Boise Centre.

In Idaho’s March 3, 2016, Republican presidential primary, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz won with 45% of the vote. Donald Trump received 28%, and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio received 16%.

Save the date for Idaho’s March 10 primary

Idaho’s presidential primary for its Constitution, Democratic and Republican parties is set for March 10.

The Constitution Party has six presidential candidates, the Democratic Party has 17 and the Republican Party has six, including incumbent President Donald Trump, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office.

For anyone not registered to vote in Idaho, the last day to pre-register to vote for the March 10 presidential primary is Friday, Feb. 14.

Idaho does allow same-day voter registration each Election Day at the voter’s respective polling place.

The last day for registered voters to request mail-in absentee ballots for the March 10 presidential primary is Feb. 28. Absentee ballot request forms are available at You also may request an absentee ballot, in person or in writing, from your county clerk’s office. A written request must list your complete name and address and the address you want it mailed to. It must be signed by you. Absentee ballots must be returned to county clerks’ offices by 8 p.m. March 10. file photo

On March 10, polls are open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. As with all Idaho elections, all voters will be asked to show photo ID or sign an affidavit attesting to their identification.

Look up where you vote via or the Ada or Canyon county election websites. Call Ada County Elections at 208-287-6860 or Canyon County Elections at 208-454-7562 to confirm your polling place.

Closed GOP primary, semi-closed Democratic primary

While a state party can choose to select its presidential nominee via a statewide election, that does not mean all registered voters can vote in that election.

A closed primary means only people affiliated with a political party can vote in its primary election. During a general election, any registered voter can vote for any party’s candidates.

New voters can affiliate with a party at the time they register. Registered voters who want to affiliate with a party or change party affiliation need to go their county clerk’s office or complete a form and submit it to the county clerk’s office for the county in which they are registered.

In Idaho, Republican primaries are closed, which means only affiliated Republicans can vote in its primaries. Democratic primaries are open, which means any registered voter can vote in its primaries.

For this year’s presidential primary election primary, though, the rules are a bit different.

To pull a Republican ballot, one must affiliate Republican. To pull a Democratic ballot, one must affiliate Democrat or remain unaffiliated. To pull a Constitution ballot, one must affiliate Constitution or remain unaffiliated.

Unlike a state primary, there is no deadline to affiliate or change affiliations in a presidential primary, and it can be be done up to, and on, Election Day.

In Idaho’s March 10, 2020, presidential primary election, party affiliation determines ballot choice. | Courtesy Ada County Elections

Packed 2020 state, federal ballot

In addition to a packed presidential primary ballot on March 10, Idaho also will have a packed ballot on May 19, when the state’s Constitution, Democratic and Republican parties hold primaries for federal and state offices. The general election is Nov. 3.

Up for election in Idaho this year are three of the state’s four congressional seats, and all of the Idaho Legislature’s 105 seats.

The Republican state primary will be closed, the Democratic and Constitution primaries will be open, meaning any registered voter of any party in Idaho will be able to vote.

The deadline for registered voters to change political party affiliation for the May 19 state primary is March 13.

On state primary Election Day, same-day voter registration is allowed and unaffiliated registered voters can affiliate with a political party.

Every candidate for federal and state office must file a statement of candidacy form. The filing period for federal offices, such as U.S. House and Senate races, is now open and closes March 13. The filing period for state offices, such as the state Legislature, takes place March 2 to March 13.

Federal offices up for election in Idaho include one U.S. Senate seat and both U.S. House seats.

Incumbents U.S. Sen. Jim Risch and Congressman Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson, all Republicans, have announced they are seeking re-election. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, a Republican, is up for election in 2022.

To date, no Republicans have filed to challenge incumbents Risch, Simpson or Fulcher in the May GOP primary. Risch was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008, Simpson was elected to the U.S. House in 1998 and and Fulcher was elected in 2018. Senate terms are six years; House terms are two years.

Three candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination for Risch’s Senate seat, according to Federal Election Commission filings: Nancy Harris of Boise, Travis Oler of Shelley, and Jim Vandermaas of Eagle. Also running for Risch’s seat, according to the FEC, are Constitution Party candidate Ray Writz of Coeur d’Alene and independent candidate Natalie Fleming of Fruitland.

Former Idaho Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paulette Jordan, of Plummer, announced last week she is running for Risch’s seat and she is actively fundraising.

Paulette Jordan

RELATED | Former gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan says she’ll challenge Risch for Senate seat

The FEC told the Statesman on Tuesday that Jordan has not filed a statement of candidacy.

“A statement of candidacy is required to be filed with the Commission within 15 days of a candidate raising or spending more than $5,000 in connection with campaign activity,” the FEC said.

According to Jordan’s campaign, she has raised $20,000 since officially announcing her candidacy on Feb. 7.

“The campaign will ensure Ms. Jordan is registered and her statement of candidacy is filed with the FEC before that time period lapses,” campaign press secretary Holly Cook told the Statesman on Tuesday.

One Democrat has filed to run for Fulcher’s 1st Congressional District seat, which comprises western and northern Idaho, including the western portion of the Treasure Valley: Rudy Soto of Nampa. Independent candidate Joseph Evans of Meridian also has filed.

So far, no one has filed to challenge Rep. Mike Simpson for the 2nd Congressional District, which comprises eastern and central Idaho, including the eastern portion of the Treasure Valley.

In the Legislature, several lawmakers already have announced they will not be seeking re-election including three-term Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise; 10-term Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, who has serves as Senate president; seven-term Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson; and six-term Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls.

Numerous people already have announced plans to run for the Idaho Legislature, although they are officially not considered candidates until they file a statement of candidacy form with the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office during the March 2 to March 13 filing period. Once the official filing period closes, the Statesman will publish a list of all legislative candidates who filed to run to avoid any confusion among people who say they are running for office, but then later change their mind and do not officially file.

This story first appeared on the Idaho Statesman. It is used here with permission.