Idaho voters will choose the Republican and Democratic nominees for all state-level and some county and federal elected offices in this month’s primary, but the leaders of both parties say they aren’t formally picking candidates in any contested races.
“Well, obviously, we don’t get involved in endorsing one person over another,” said Jim Hansen, executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party. There are three contested Democratic primaries for the state Legislature, in Caldwell, Boise, and a district serving four counties near Sun Valley. Hansen said the state and county-level parties worked to get more Democratic names on the ballot. “Every county tried to get candidates for all the races, but not always successfully. In some areas of the state, there are Democrats, but the way Democrats have been described in the popular media keeps them quiet, so they will serve in community offices or a non-partisan office.”
The Democratic race for governor also has two candidates, Keith Allred of Eagle and Lee Chaney of Preston. Allred is featured prominently on the Democrats’ website, but Hansen said he hasn’t been formally endorsed. Hansen added that Allred has reached out to the state and county party organizations, while Chaney doesn’t have as strong a relationship the party, which puts him at a disadvantage.
The Republican Party fielded more candidates across the state, and will also see more contested primaries. Jonathan Parker, the GOP’s executive director in Idaho, said the goal was to prevent giving Democratic lawmakers a free pass on the November ballot. “We played a vital role in recruiting candidates to run in as many open seats against Democratic incumbents,” he said. The state Republican Party also won’t be making endorsements, though county parties are free to. Ada County Republicans recently censured a state Senate candidate, a move Parker backed.
Both party leaders would like to see changes to the state election system. The GOP is suing the Idaho secretary of state to allow for a closed Republican primary, in which only registered Republicans could vote on the party’s candidates. “It violates our constitutional right to associate,” Parker said. Idaho’s open primaries currently allow a voter to choose either the Republican ballot or Democratic ballot, which could lead to voters who identify with one party to crossover and vote on the other party’s ballot.
Hansen said he’d like to roll back some election policies approved while he was a state legislator from 1989 to 1995. He said he’d like to require candidates to collect signatures to get on the ballot, rather than pay a fee to the secretary of state. “We’ve had people file who weren’t serious candidates, on both parties, because they had the money,” he told IdahoReporter.com. “They would not have filed if they had to collect a few hundred signatures to get on the ballot.” He also would like to give parties the power to add candidates on the November ballot if the party has a vacancy after the primary. He said giving partisan candidates that option would give voters more choices on Election Day.