Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Idaho Will Probably Be a Battleground in 2024

Huh? Did we have one beer too many before writing this item? Don't worry. The Republican nominee for president will carry the Gem State in 2024. No question about it. No, the battle is likely to be about something else: voting itself.

It is a bit complicated, so first a bit of backstory. Idaho, like Montana, didn't used to be a red state. Democrat Frank Church represented Idaho in the Senate from 1956 to 1981. Cecil Andrus (D) was governor from 1987 to 1995. Starting in the 1990s, people who worked in extractive industries began rejecting the Democrats because they believed (correctly) that environmentalists threatened their jobs. But the Republicans they elected tended to be populists, not hardliners.

That changed in 2007 when right-wing zealots captured the Idaho Republican Party. Since then, there have essentially been two Republican parties in Idaho, an extremely far-right one and a more moderate one. The far-right one often ekes out narrow wins in primaries for statewide office, but often loses downballot. The two groups hate one another more than they hate the Democrats.

A group called Reclaim Idaho was created earlier this year with the goal to get rid of closed partisan primaries and replace the voting system with a clone of the one recently adopted in Alaska. It has an open primary, with the top four candidates advancing to a ranked-choice election in November. Reclaim Idaho is trying to get a constitutional amendment implementing the Alaska system on the ballot in 2024.

The far-right Republicans who control the state party are wildly opposed to it because they see the handwriting on the wall. If it is implemented, the top four will usually be one of their far-right candidates, a moderate Republican, a Democrat, and someone else in fourth place. After the fourth-place finisher is eliminated in the ranked-choice voting, it will be a far-right Republican, a moderate Republican, and a Democrat. In the next round, the Democrat will be eliminated, but the Democrats' second choice votes will determine which Republican wins. This will always be the moderate Republican. The consequence of this system will be that the far-right Republicans won't be able to win statewide offices anymore. They don't like this, so they will try to make sure the initiative does not make the ballot, and if it does anyway, to defeat it in 2024. That won't be so easy because the Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans will support it.

Also, it seems to have worked in Alaska, although Sarah Palin complained bitterly that she should have been elected to the House because the two Republicans together got more first-place votes than the one Democrat and she got more first-place votes than the other Republican, Nick Begich. However, as the process played out, she ended up losing because when third-place-finisher Begich was eliminated, enough of his supporters' votes went to now-Rep. Mary Peltola (D) to get her over 50%.

In any event, if Reclaim Idaho can get 63,000 valid signatures by May 2024, the amendment will be on the Nov. 2024 ballot. If it passes, Idaho could get more senators in the future like Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) than like Sens. Jim Risch (R-ID) and Mike Crapo (R-ID). (V)

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