The Open Primaries Initiative will restore decency to Idaho politics

There has been no shortage in recent days of California political refugees who arrive in the Gem State to “wake up” native Idahoans to a variety of political calamities. One day it is waking us up to the supposed danger that evil librarians pose to the morals of our kids. The next thing you know, they warn us to wake up to the mortal danger of critical race theory, which they have never been able to define or find anywhere in Idaho.

Now, California transplant Morgan MaGill, who works for the extreme-right Idaho Family Policy Center, is awaking us with the claim that the Open Primaries Initiative (OPI) is an evil plot to turn Idaho into California. MaGill says California Governor Gavin Newsome brought the idea for the initiative to Idaho last year. It is passing strange that he would support ranked choice voting in Idaho when he has vetoed the idea in his own state.

The truth is that Idaho’s former GOP House Speaker, Bruce Newcomb, was the earliest proponent of the Open Primaries Initiative in Idaho. He saw it as the only way to break the stranglehold that extremists have on the Idaho Republican Party. Bruce and many traditional Idaho Republicans grew up with a primary system where voters of every political stripe could vote any party ballot they pleased in the primary election. That produced governments where officials worked together for the common good. GOP culture warriors now employ fear and outrage to scare up votes for their own benefit.

Former Governor Butch Otter and many other traditional conservatives support the OPI

because they know it is the best hope for restoring civility and reason to the Republican Party. That means ousting Dorothy Moon and her cronies who use the low-turnout primary election to put extremists on the general election ballot. Almost 90% of the general election winners are actually chosen in the GOP primary in this red state.

The Open Primaries Coalition modeled the OPI after the system that worked so well in Alaska in 2022. All candidates, regardless of party, compete on the same primary ticket. The top four vote-getters move to the general election ticket. In that election, voters select their first choice for each office, but they may also rank the other candidates in order of preference. The candidate receiving a majority in the first vote count wins. If there is no winner, the candidate getting the fewest votes is eliminated from the running. The selections on ballots where that candidate was first choice shift upward a notch (choices 2, 3 and 4, become 1, 2 and 3) and a second count is made. If that count does not produce a winner, a third count will do it. A bonus of the system is that if your favorite does not win, your second choice might.

Alaska voters found the system to be simple. It caused candidates to conduct more civilized campaigns, those elected were more reasonable and pragmatic, extremists with a narrow culture war agenda had a hard time winning and all voters had an actual say in selecting their leaders. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski said the system worked very well. Similar voting systems have been used in Ireland and Australia for decades.

MaGill contends that primaries are not elections. Actually, they are elections because Idaho law says they are. They are paid for by all Idaho taxpayers, regardless of party, and everyone should have the right to vote in any of them. The Idaho Constitution enshrines the right of all citizens to vote. It conveys no rights to political parties.

MaGill says a close friend heard of registered Democrats asking for Republican ballots in the May primary. If there is one instance where a registered Democrat voted the Republican ballot, it should be reported to election officials because it is a violation of the law. The contention is obviously unreliable hearsay.

It is a given that the OPI will weaken the hold of MaGill’s employer, the Idaho Family Policy Center, over public policy in Idaho. That is precisely the aim of the OPI–to reduce the influence of culture warriors in Idaho’s government. It will hit the Moon branch of the GOP hard. The Idaho Freedom Foundation and its dark-money supporters hate the initiative. On the other hand, the OPI will allow Idaho’s 264,000 unaffiliated voters to finally have a say in who represents them in important public offices. Idaho’s 160,000 veterans will have the opportunity to vote in any election they choose. None of this is a California agenda. It is an Idaho agenda that many Idaho voters want to restore.

Article written by Jim Jones

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1991) and 12 years as a Justice on the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2017). His columns are collected at