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Republican presidential caucus March 2: What to expect

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | February 11, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Instead of voting in a presidential primary election this year, Idaho voters will choose their political party’s nominee via presidential nominating caucuses.

During the 2023 legislative session, Idaho lawmakers passed House Bill 138, which aimed to consolidate primary elections so all primaries occur in May but, apparently unintentionally, eliminated presidential primaries.

Because the Idaho Legislature didn’t reinstate the presidential primary election by the Republican Party’s Oct. 1, 2023 deadline, presidential nominating caucuses must be held instead.

Republican voters are up first, with presidential nominating caucuses set for 11 a.m. Saturday, March 2. The Idaho Democratic Party will hold its presidential nominating caucuses at 5 p.m. local time May 23.

The presidential nominating caucuses are separate from the 2024 primary election, which will be May 21 and will include county and legislative primary races.

Caucuses are run by political parties and have their own rules. State and county elections staff will have no involvement in the Republican caucus.

Delegates for the Republican National Convention in July will be awarded proportionately, based on the outcome of the statewide votes in Idaho’s caucus. Any candidate who receives more than 50% of the statewide vote total will be awarded all 32 Idaho delegates for the Republican National Convention.

There will be no absentee or early voting options for the more than 66,000 Republican voters in Kootenai County.

Some critics have expressed concern that a presidential caucus will disenfranchise Republicans who are unable to attend, including people who work weekends, disabled voters and military members.

In a January column, Kootenai County Republican Central Committee Chair Brent Regan said he believes few voters will be disenfranchised by the lack of absentee voting.

“The caucus is being held on a Saturday specifically so that working voters will be able to participate,” he said.

Regan said he believes the caucus will not be a “dumpster fire” and likely won’t take as long as the last presidential caucus in 2012.

“The 2024 caucus will have a single round of voting and could take as little as a few minutes if all you want to do is cast your vote and not listen to the five-minute candidate presentations,” he said.

Candidates still running for the Republican nomination include former President Donald J. Trump and Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and former U.S. ambassador.

Though Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and Chris Christie have dropped out of the national race, their names will still appear on the Idaho caucus ballot.

How does it work?

Caucus location doors will open at 11 a.m. Check-in will close at 12:30 p.m., but voters who are in line at that time will be permitted to vote, according to the Idaho GOP’s caucus rules.

All voters must show photo ID, sign next to their name in the poll book and receive a hand stamp.

After presentations on the presidential candidates, voting will begin. Voters must show their hand stamp and receive a second stamp in order to receive a ballot. Then voters may cast a secret ballot and put it in the ballot box. Voters may leave the caucus after voting or stay to watch the ballots be tallied.

When voting is complete, the caucus captain and two tabulators will open the ballot box in front of witnesses. They will sort the ballots into piles, one for each candidate, and count the ballots at least twice, until the count is the same twice in a row.

The results will be entered into a tabulation sheet, which will be sealed in a box along with the ballots and poll books and sent to Idaho GOP headquarters. The caucus captain will also report the results to the Idaho GOP.

Who can vote?

The caucus will be open to “all registered Republican voters that are able to attend,” according to the Idaho GOP.

Voters who were affiliated with the Republican Party as of Jan. 1 may vote in the caucus. Voters who turn 18 between Jan. 1 and March 2 may participate if they sign an affidavit declaring they have registered to vote and affiliate with the Republican Party.

Only eligible voters and their minor children may enter the caucus location. No media will be allowed to enter the caucus location, though members of the media who are also qualified electors for a particular location may enter and vote.

Where to vote?

Each county in Idaho must have at least one caucus location. Kootenai County has 25 different locations, most of which will serve multiple precincts.

These caucus locations will be different than the polling places voters use for other elections. The locations must be able to hold at least 10% of the registered Republicans for the precincts they serve.

Republican voters can expect to receive a card in the mail this month from the Idaho GOP that lists the time and location of the caucus for their precinct.

To find their caucus location, voters can also check their precinct using the polling place lookup tool at www.voteidaho.gov, then check the caucus location list at www.idahorepublicancaucus.com.