The Idaho Democratic Party is looking to change the way voters help to decide the Democratic nominee for president in 2020.
The party wants to change to a primary system, rather than the caucus system it has used every four years since 1980. The last time the Idaho Democratic Party held a primary to help nominate a presidential candidate was in 1976.
A primary system would be open to more voters, state party leaders contend. The change has been in the works for a while—a delegate selection committee within the party proposed it in October 2017, and the State Central Committee supported it at the party’s convention in Caldwell last month.
Idaho Democratic Party Communications Director Lindsey Snider stated in an email that the Democratic National Committee still has to approve the change before it can happen. She expects that to get done in 2019.
“We currently have no reason to believe it won’t be passed,” Snider said.
Caucuses require more time to participate in than do primary elections. During the Idaho Democratic Party caucus in Blaine County in the 2016 presidential election, voters gathered at the Wood River High School gymnasium on March 22. They listened to speeches by citizens in favor of candidates and participated in rounds of informal balloting before the final votes were counted.
Candidate Bernie Sanders won Blaine County’s caucus in 2016 with 69 percent of the vote; more than 800 people participated. The Idaho Republican Party held its presidential primary on March 7.
A primary election is done similar to a general election, with voters casting ballots in voting booths, as well as by absentee balloting or early voting. Turnout in primary elections is well above that of caucuses.
“The party is moving to a primary system mostly because the caucus system was unwieldy and a strain on our county parties’ resources and those of our state party as well,” Snider wrote.
Aside from the party presidential primaries and caucuses, Idaho hosts an additional primary in May in presidential election years for legislative and congressional candidates. In 2015, the Legislature voted to allow both parties to hold primaries in March, with tax dollars covering the estimated $2 million in cost of conducting an additional election, according to the Idaho Press Tribune newspaper.
The Republican Party did that in 2016, but the Democratic Party still opted for the caucus election.
Democratic Party Chairman Bert Marley told the Press Tribune his preference is for the parties to pay for their nominating contests, but that’s not how the Legislature chose to act.
“The more we thought about it, we’re paying for it,” Marley told the newspaper. “It’s coming out of our tax money. We decided if we’re paying for it, we might as well be using it, too.”