Policy Studies Governance

Polishing Gem State Elections: The Case for Electoral Reform in Idaho


Matt Germer
Associate Director and Elections Fellow, Governance Program

Key Points

Electoral competition is good—it leads to a more engaged electorate, better performance on behalf of constituents and even better economic outcomes. Unfortunately, Idaho’s elections are largely uncompetitive.

The problem has nothing to do with partisanship or demographics—it’s Idaho’s electoral structure. Closed primary elections limit the decisive election in the vast majority of districts only to registered Republicans.

Idaho elections could be substantially more competitive with open primaries or blanket primaries with instant-runoff general elections.

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Executive Summary

Idaho struggles with uncompetitive elections. Whether due to unopposed candidates or blowout elections, more than half of the elections in the state are decided in the primary rather than in the general election.

This phenomenon is not new in Idaho—voters have had limited options in most races for decades—but new solutions in use across the country may help. Unlike Idaho, which uses closed partisan primaries that limit who can participate, nearly half of U.S. states now offer primaries that are open to voters of all stripes. In so doing, these states ensure that what are often the most meaningful elections—the primary elections—offer the opportunity for all constituents to participate.

Alternatively, states like Alaska are experimenting with a bolder and more promising reform that combines blanket primaries with instant-runoff general elections. This new style of election ensures that the general election is the deciding contest for all districts, regardless of partisan composition, and provides voters with more meaningful choices than they get with closed primaries and winner-take-all general elections.

Either of these options would help increase competition in Idaho’s elections.

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