Opinion: Idaho primary system favors extremists

George Washington had a point when he warned us against getting too caught up in political parties.

Our political system is increasingly difficult to navigate these days, especially when we look at primaries.

Political parties get to set the rules for their primaries in states like Idaho. The Republican Party closed its primary about a decade ago, forcing people to register as Republicans or be unable to participate. New rules were instituted this year making it even harder to navigate how to participate.

(The Democratic primary remains open in Idaho.)

Other states offer different approaches, such as a top-two outcome regardless of party or ranked-choice voting. Both of these approaches rely less on party affiliation and more on the voters responding to the candidates and their policies.

These systems also allow more people to participate, rather than locking people out.

We’ve seen what happens with a partisan primary setup here in Idaho. These types of primaries favor extremists. Even though we like to say that extremists “aren’t who we are,” our Legislature has been passing a lot of extremist laws in the last three years. Extremist lawmakers make up culture war “problems” and create bad policies to “solve” these non-existent issues.

Even though these extremists represent a minority of voters and people in Idaho, they carry out-sized influence. They don’t even have to be in the Legislature to influence our laws and policies.

There are enough moderates in the state Legislature to stop some of the harmful (and often unconstitutional) legislation that we’ve seen passed in the last three years. However, these moderates worry about being primaried by extremists and the money their backers will pour into the race. So, it makes it easier to go along. Reluctantly vote yes for this bill. Pander a bit over there. Offer a little performative hand-wringing.

There might be sighs of relief now that this recent primary is over, but you have only to look at recent legislation to see that moderates haven’t stopped any of it — even though they could have. Much of the extremist agenda pushed by the Idaho Freedom Foundation makes it through the House. A decent amount of it makes it through the Senate — and is signed by our governor.

All of this is enabled by a primary system that allows the few to push their agenda on the rest of us. Extremists are more likely to show up consistently in primaries, year after year. And, later, in the general election, people are more likely to just vote for their “team,” rather than assess whether the person running actually aligns with their values.

The entire party primary system we have right now favors rule by an extremist minority. And unless we push for change to this system, we will have more of the same going forward:

Frenzied attempts to “save” Idaho during the primary, with our governor going back to signing extremist bills into law while wringing his hands and saying he wishes the Legislature would send him something different.

Miranda Marquit, Master of Business Administration, is a nationally recognized financial expert, speaker and podcaster. She is the state committeewoman for the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.