Anyone who expected Attorney General Raul Labrador’s review of Reclaim Idaho’s “Open Primaries” initiative to be a political hatchet job, would not have been disappointed. The AG’s review, released on May 31, made any number of legally faulty claims about the initiative. Labrador set the stage with a May 2 tweet about the initiative, saying, “Let’s defeat these bad ideas coming from liberal outside groups.” His chief political operative, Theo Wold, has been doing his best to paint the initiative as an evil liberal plot, designed to subvert the Republican Party.
They ignore the fact that many traditional Idaho Republicans, like former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, strongly support the initiative. Newcomb calls it “a simple, common-sense reform that will give us better elections and better leadership.” Hyrum Erickson, an elected Republican precinct committeeman for Madison County, backs the initiative because “our current primary system incentivizes candidates to demonize people who disagree with them rather than focus on solving problems.”
In fact, a broad coalition of home-grown Idaho Republicans, Independents and Democrats believe the plan will allow all Idahoans to participate in selecting our political leaders. They want to break the monopoly that the Dorothy Moon extremist branch of the GOP has had over Idaho elections since the Republican primary was closed in 2012, keeping a majority of Idahoans from having a say in choosing elected leaders.
The Attorney General has a legal duty to review initiatives before they are circulated for signature. Idaho law requires the Attorney General to “recommend to the petitioner such revision or alteration of the measure as may be deemed necessary and appropriate.”
Labrador violated this statutory duty by stating his political views about the initiative, rather than performing an impartial legal analysis. But, this is in keeping with his promise to run a political office, rather than a law office providing sound legal advice.
Labrador’s review asserts the initiative is constitutionally infirm, based upon a 2017 advisory opinion of the Maine Supreme Court. However, the initiative is fashioned after the “Alaska Better Elections Initiative” that was found to be constitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court in 2022.
Labrador takes the absurd position that the right of political parties to control who can vote in primary elections takes priority over the right of voters to vote for the candidates of their choice in those elections. The Idaho Constitution does not grant political parties the right to control who votes in our elections, but our Supreme Court has held the right of citizens to elect their leaders is an inviolable constitutional right.
The AG’s review is a collection of contrived arguments designed to sabotage the initiative. Labrador fears the initiative because it would allow all Idaho voters to have a voice in our elections, rather than the small clique that has driven Idaho politics toward the outer bounds of extremism in recent years.
The “Open Primaries” initiative would establish a primary election where all candidates run on a single ticket, allowing every voter to select from the entire field. The four top vote-getters will be placed on the general election ballot, where all voters can vote for the candidates in their order of preference.
A candidate who receives an outright majority of the vote in the initial vote count wins the office. If there is no majority winner, the candidate receiving the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the votes of those who made that candidate their first choice then go to their second-choice candidate in a second count. If a candidate gets a majority in the second count, they win. If not, the process repeats until a candidate gets a majority. The beauty of this system is that every voter has a better chance of influencing the election–if their first choice does not win, their second choice might. The system is often called ranked choice voting.
Alaska’s new election system received plaudits from voters in the 2022 election. Voters surveyed said it was easy to use. It gave them more choices in the election and more influence in selecting their leaders. It has reportedly had the effect of making elected leaders more pragmatic and more responsive to the will of the majority. Idaho desperately needs this type of election reform.