Idaho Democratic Party central committee meeting

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Bert Marley leads a meeting of the party’s central committee at the College of Idaho in Caldwell, during the state party’s convention on Saturday. Idaho Democrats will switch to a presidential primary, rather than a caucus, for the next presidential election in 2020.

CALDWELL — Idaho Democrats will switch to a presidential primary, rather than a caucus, for the next presidential election in 2020.

The party announced the change during its state party convention Saturday at the College of Idaho in Caldwell.

“We’re looking to move to a system that we have a primary, so that everybody can vote,” said Van Beechler, the party’s first vice chair.

Party Chairman Bert Marley said, “It’s been obvious the last couple presidential elections that the caucus system for us, in most parts of the state, is pretty unwieldy.”

Some caucus meetings have gone long into the evening, reported long lines, and otherwise tested the patience of participants.

Marley said when he started as state party chairman in 2015, he appointed a committee to explore options, and the result is this move to a primary. Following the Democratic presidential primary, county Democratic Party conventions will be held to select delegates to the state party convention, and the delegates will be apportioned and pledged based on the outcome of the presidential primary. Then, the state party convention will elect delegates to the party’s national convention.

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“In the next six months, we’ll be presenting our delegate selection plan to the Democratic National Committee for approval,” Marley said. “Because other states have been doing it, there’s no reason to think they won’t approve it.”

Beechler told the party’s state central committee, which met Saturday afternoon as part of the party’s state convention in Caldwell, “Most states that do the caucus, it’s because they don’t have a government-funded primary, and it’s too costly for the state parties to do it. We don’t have that issue any more.”

That’s because Idaho Republican lawmakers pushed through legislation in 2015 to hold a new presidential preference primary in March in presidential election years, in addition to the regular state primary election in May in those years, in an effort to give Idaho more influence in the national nominee selection process. That additional election takes place at state expense and can cost up to $2 million; in 2016, it was just for the Republicans and the Constitution Party, as Democrats held caucuses.

All Democrats in the state Legislature voted against that move in 2015, saying the state shouldn’t pay for a closed party nominating event. But it passed anyway.

Marley said he still believes parties should pay for their own nominating processes, but that’s not what passed. “The more we thought about it, we’re already paying for it,” he said. “It’s coming out of our tax money. We decided if we’re paying for it, we might as well be using it, too.”

“This is the system that’s in place — we’re paying for it, we’re going to use it,” he said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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