Guest Opinions

Your vote matters most in the primary. To switch affiliation, do it by March 9.

Voters cast their ballots at Ada County’s mobile unit in 2016.
Voters cast their ballots at Ada County’s mobile unit in 2016.

Here’s the bad news for Idaho voters: If you miss voting in the primary election, you pretty much miss the election train.

That’s because nearly all statewide officeholders in Idaho are selected in the primary election. Put another way, the primary election is when votes really matter.

More specifically, recent history tells us that Republican primary results generally presage general election results for statewide offices. For the past 12 years, 100 percent of Idaho statewide political officeholders were decided in the Republican primary. If you go back 20 years, two Democrats were elected to statewide office: Marilyn Howard, superintendent of public instruction, and J.D. Williams, state controller. Four years later, only one Democrat — Howard — was elected. Since then, it’s been all Republicans.

Unless you think Idaho has become less Republican over the last two decades — and with apologies to Democrats – it’s probable that all or nearly all of our statewide officeholders will be selected at the May 15 primary.

Yet voter primary participation is inexplicably low.

Statewide officeholders are elected every four years, the last time in 2014. The Secretary of State’s Office reports that 37.59 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population voted in the 2014 general election, but only 16.63 percent voted in the 2014 primary. As usual, all statewide office candidates selected in the Republican primary went on to win in the November general election.

Think of it this way: In 2014, less than one-sixth of our voting-age population decided who would hold these important offices.

This raises an interesting question: Why would more than twice as many people vote in Idaho’s general elections than vote in the primaries when virtually all of the statewide officeholders are decided in the primary elections?

Maybe they’re uncertain what the primary voting requirements are. In that case, go to to find out how to register to vote, how to get an absentee ballot and how to affiliate with a party if that’s what you want to do. If you’re already affiliated with a party and you want to change, you have to do it by March 9. No one else has to worry about that deadline. Just go vote.

It’s clear Republicans are the majority party in Idaho, even if only a minority of Republicans chose to vote in a primary. Most Republicans want their party to be truly representative of the majority of Idaho’s citizens — a “big tent” party. That requires a big-tent vote, and in Idaho, that means a big-tent vote in the primary.

Regardless of your preference for offices like governor, I hope you will vote in the primary to ensure that those chosen will represent all of us. In the spirit of creating an even bigger tent, I hope new or unaffiliated voters will choose Republican affiliation to participate in selecting the best leaders possible for our great state.

David High was an Idaho deputy attorney general prior to retirement. He currently serves on a state board, an online charter school board and is Republican precinct committeeman for Precinct 1913.