Republicans change course on Idaho presidential primary bill

Posted at 2:40 PM, Feb 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-03 16:40:57-05

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Republicans changed course Monday on a bill restricting voters in presidential primaries -- after complaints it would have disenfranchised hundreds of voters.

Idaho voters can currently register or switch parties right up to the March presidential primary. But under the bill, voters starting in 2024 would have to register with a particular party about ninety days before the presidential primary.

The measure passed by the House State Affairs Committee deletes a clause that would have made the bill retroactive to the filing deadline for Idaho presidential candidates -- or Dec. 10.

Ada County officials say that amounts to about 1,700 voters in Ada County alone who registered as a Republican or Democrat after that date and would not be able to vote this year.

Idaho has 43 other counties that have also been registering voters.

The previous legislation contained an emergency clause that would have gone into effect with Republican Gov. Brad’s Little signature. That would have given Idaho voters a roughly two-week opportunity to change party affiliation to participate in either the Republican or Democratic presidential primary ahead of Little’s signature.

That initial bill came under fire from Democrats on the committee.

But, in a five-page letter to Democratic Rep. Brooke Green, Assistant Chief Deputy Brian Kane with the Attorney General’s Office said the original bill “appears constitutionally permissible.”

He also wrote that the “emergency clause is within the legislature’s discretion to include.”

Despite the analysis, the original bill was pulled from the full House and sent back to the committee, where it was replaced with the new version eliminating the emergency clause.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Doug Ricks, said he was removing the emergency clause as a favor to Democrats. The Republican presidential primary has multiple candidates -- but no serious challengers -- to President Donald Trump. Democrats have multiple contenders with no clear favorite.

Following the committee meeting, Democratic Rep. John Gannon said that, despite the attorney general’s opinion, there was still some legal question and potential litigation stemming from voters who would have retroactively been prevented from participating in the presidential primary of their choice.

Democrats allow both Democrats and unaffiliated voters to participate in their presidential primary. Democrats allow any registered voter to take part in the regular primary in May. Republicans only allow Republicans to take part in their May primary -- and want to conduct their presidential primary with those same rules.