Historic Idaho Presidential Caucus
- 4 March 2012 by Author 0 Comments
Historic Idaho Presidential Caucus
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 03/04/12
Political parties were warned against by George Washington, yet their formation, evolution, and in some cases, transformation, was inevitable. People who think similarly usually group together for common causes, which in a very loose historical sense, explains the emergence, and sometimes disappearance of parties throughout our nation’s history.
Whether we like it or not, our nation has developed into a fundamentally two-party system. Democrats trace their formation back to Thomas Jefferson, who interestingly, was an anti-federalist opposed to a strong centralized federal government, while the modern Republican party claims Abraham Lincoln as it’s founder, based primarily on an anti-slavery platform.
The most fundamental task filled by political parties is recruiting and selecting candidates for public office. That’s why we have primary elections, to narrow the field of candidates so a winner of the general election can receive a majority vote.
Since primaries are used by the parties to select their candidates, Idaho voters have always had to specify which ballot they wanted to vote on. Last year, however, the legislature passed HB 351 creating “closed” primaries, where voters must declare a party affiliation by registering as a member of one of four possible parties, Constitution, Democrat, Libertarian or Republican. While it was controversial at the time, frankly, it makes sense. Open primaries, without consideration for party affiliation, is tantamount to allowing Protestant ministers vote for the Catholic Pope.
Starting this year, one must register by party affiliation to participate in a party’s caucus or primary. This can be done at the County Election Office, or by printing, filling out, and mailing in the form found at http://www.idahovotes.gov/VoterReg/affiliation_form.pdf. For the Republican Presidential Caucus on Tuesday, anyone can participate by registering before the caucus begins.
With the state-funded primary in May, Idahoans have rarely had a say in the selection of presidential candidates, as earlier state primaries, and caucuses, have usually determined party candidates long before Idahoans voted.
That’s why the changes made by the Idaho Republican Party for this year’s presidential campaign are so significant. The primary date has not been changed from May, which is still important for selecting state and local candidates for the respective parties. But Idaho Republicans have opted to conduct caucuses around the state on “Super Tuesday,” March 6, when over 400 of the requisite 1144 delegates to secure the nomination are up for grabs from 10 states.
The change to a caucus seems to be permanent, as the Idaho Legislature has passed a bill (H 391) that removes the presidential primary line from the state-funded primary ballot, clearly indicating both major parties prefer to determine their national convention delegates by early caucuses.
For Idaho Republicans, this caucus is historic. A Republican challenger to the incumbent president has not yet been determined, which means perhaps for the first time ever, Idaho will have a say in the selection of a major party nominee, much like Idaho Democrats had a say with their 2008 “Super Tuesday” Caucuses. This has resulted in more presidential candidate visits than Idaho is accustomed to.
At stake is Idaho’s 32 delegates to the national convention. And with the way the national party determines delegates for each state, Idaho actually ends up sending more to the national convention than early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. And this year, Idaho has more than Arizona and South Carolina. Although ranked 39th in population, Idaho is #30 in delegate count to the national convention.
Each of Idaho’s 44 counties will hold its own caucus on Tuesday. Bannock County Republicans will meet in the ISU Student Union Ballroom with registration starting at 5:00 p.m. and the caucus beginning at 7:00 p.m. Bingham county locations are the Blackfoot High School old gymnasium, Snake River High School, Shelley High School gymnasium and the Aberdeen American Legion Hall.
Every participant votes by secret ballot in successive rounds. The candidate with the lowest vote tally in each round is eliminated until one candidate receives over 50% of the votes. The results of each County Caucus will be accumulated and the winning candidate will be awarded all of Idaho’s 32 delegates.
As I have pondered the possibilities with these caucuses, there’s another benefit to them that may not be quantifiable, but perhaps even more important. And that’s the social component. Getting together with others in a dynamic setting, discussing the future of the country and what is needed to get it on the right track, meeting and interacting with others of roughly similar core values, can’t help but have a synergistic affect on the participants. The level of enthusiasm will likely be elevated, which hopefully will increase commitments for awareness, increased knowledge, involvement, and visibility.
Democrats seem to be much more outspoken and visible. Learning from their counterparts, perhaps those whom Nixon referred to as the “silent majority,” can learn how to be a vocal majority instead.
AP award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.