Pay for my election

Political party pushes preemptive presidential primary

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COEUR d'ALENE - The Legislature has passed a bill that would separate the 2016 presidential primary election from the rest of the primary races in May.

If the governor signs the bill, the presidential primary will be held on the second Tuesday in March, which is the beginning of the primary season nationwide.

"From an election standpoint it'll take a little extra effort," said Republican County Clerk Jim Brannon. "But we are ready for this."

Brannon said the elections division plans and budgets for four elections each year in all 70 precincts in the county.

He said the wildcard will be the turnout, which may require more staffing.

"I understand why they are doing it," he said. "But the price tag is going to be high."

While the issue is controversial, Brannon said it will benefit absentee voters who are excluded from the presidential caucus nomination process.

The estimated cost of the primary is $2 million, and while the bill did pass both houses, it faced staunch opposition from lawmakers who felt taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for a political party's election.

"I've heard that from a lot of people," Brannon said. "Everybody is going to have to pay for one party's closed primary."

Former County Clerk Dan English, a Democrat, said spending $2 million on splitting the primary only benefits the Republican Party.

He said the Democrats still hold a caucus to nominate their presidential candidate.

"It essentially benefits one political party," he said. "When I look at the opportunity costs and all the things that had to be cut to pay for that, it is frustrating."

English, who is the director of North Idaho Court Appointed Special Advocates, said he didn't get everything he needed from the Legislature this year. He had one $40,000 line-item go unfunded this year.

"A couple of thousand kids could have been helped with that money," he said. "Overall I wish the legislators would look out for all Idahoans and not just one party."

English expects the cost to exceed the $2 million, and said the party could have moved the whole primary to March to save money.

"I know they don't want to do that because the Legislature is in session in March," he said, adding he hasn't heard from a single Democrat who supports the bill.

While the bill passed largely along party lines, a handful of Republicans voted against it in the House.

For example, Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, argued that Republican Party officials should pay for the extra costs of hosting an early presidential primary.

He added the Republican Party was stuck paying hefty election costs in 2012 - primarily because the party rented a $35,000 venue and left with almost no money to support local candidates - and were now trying to find a way to shift those costs.

"It's wrong in principal," he said.

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, countered that political parties are not forced to conduct an early primary election under the bill.

Supporters argue the bill will increase Idaho's profile in the presidential primary by moving up the date.

States often vie for the limelight during primary season, attempting to pre-empt other states and collect more campaign spending that comes with having an early primary.

The plan now heads to Gov. Butch Otter, and it wasn't immediately clear whether or not he supports it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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