Presidential Caucus FAQ
Idaho Republican Presidential Nomination Caucus
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Idaho GOP Rules Committee – January 24, 2012
1. Why should Idaho have a Republican Presidential Nomination Caucus?
Idaho deserves a voice in the Presidential nominating process. Folks in Carey, Idaho deserve to have the same input on our next president as folks in Concord, New Hampshire. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case in recent Presidential election cycles. Many states have moved their primaries or caucuses to earlier dates, leaving states like Idaho lagging far behind. With a large majority of states casting their votes early in the process, the nominee is usually decided by late February or March, and, with the Idaho Primary coming months later, in late May, we have no real voice on who becomes the Republican Presidential nominee.
Idaho has 32 delegates to send to the national convention. That is more delegates than Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Idaho will be a big early prize for the winning Republican Presidential candidate, and we should expect to see candidates paying more attention to Idaho Republican voters as we lead up to the Idaho Caucus.
2. How does the Caucus work?
The first Tuesday in March, the day of Idaho’s Republican Presidential Nomination Caucus, every county in the state will hold a County Caucus.
The voting will be conducted by secret ballot and takes place in successive rounds. Each round, low vote-getters are eliminated. Voting ends in either of two circumstances: a) one candidate receives a simple majority of at least 50% of the vote; or b) only two final candidates remain on the ballot and the final vote is taken.
Delegates for the Republican National Convention will be apportioned according to the Counties’ state convention apportionment and the voting totals from the County Caucuses with the proviso that any candidate who receives more than 50% of the statewide County Caucus delegates total will be awarded all the Idaho delegates for the Republican National Convention.
3. Who votes in the Caucus?
All registered Republican voters in the county are eligible to vote in the County Caucuses. Voters may register to vote as Republicans as they enter the Caucus site.
4. Prior to this change how did the old primary system work?
For the old system: in May of a Presidential election year, Idaho would hold a Primary Election. The Primary Election determined the allocation of 24 of Idaho’s 32 delegates to the Republican National Convention. Of the 32 delegates to the National Convention, 24 delegates were counted as “soft pledged” and could change their votes if they desired. The remaining 8 delegates were unpledged, and could vote for any viable candidate they wished at the convention.
The Idaho Republican Presidential Nomination Caucus will result in 32 pledged delegates to the Republican National Convention, allocated according to the County Caucus voting—likely with all delegates pledged to one Presidential candidate. (As usual, if a second ballot is required at the national convention, those delegates are released from their pledge.)
5. Isn’t a restricted Caucus system less democratic than a Primary System?
The Caucus will be open to all registered Republican voters. Many other Caucus states restrict the voting to only precinct chairs and county officers. Any republican who usually votes in the Republican Primaries is welcome and encouraged to also participate in the Idaho Republican Presidential Nomination Caucus. Again, all Republicans can vote in the caucus.
6. What is wrong with the Primary that makes a change to a Caucus system necessary?
The primary system has several problems, but the timing of the primary and the binding of delegates are the two largest problems. The proposed Caucus system fixes these two problems.
Most folks realize that Idaho’s primary comes very late in the process. Currently, only 6 states have primaries later than Idaho’s. The Caucus system would put Idaho on the “super-Tuesday” in March or earlier, with several other states. By rule, only 4 states will have primaries or caucuses earlier than Idaho (or else suffer losing delegates as a penalty). With a Caucus system, leading Presidential candidates may see Idaho as an important piece to their strategies to win the nomination (32 delegates are at stake). Idaho will have a voice in the Presidential nomination process.
In addition, not all of Idaho’s delegates to the Republican National Convention are bound to the winning candidate of the Primary elections. As a result, candidates have less incentive to come to Idaho to seek the support of Idaho voters and to consider many of the issues important to Idaho voters.
With a Caucus system, leading Presidential candidates will be interested in receiving as much early support as possible, and that would include the Idaho Caucus. Additionally, the candidates would be confident of receiving all the delegates that are pledged as a result of the Caucus.
7. Why did we change to a Caucus when it was just decided to have closed primaries?
The Idaho Republican Presidential Nomination Caucus will be for the Presidential nomination only. The Caucus will not change the timing or the process of the primaries. Again, the motivation for the changes is about timing and voice. Idaho will have a more important role with the Caucus.
8. What is a delegate and why are they important at the Republican National Convention?
The term “delegate” refers to a person elected by Idaho Republicans to represent Idaho at the Republican National Convention. To nominate the party’s candidate for President, each state sends a number of delegates to the Republican National Convention. There, a vote is taken to determine which candidate has the most support from the delegates, and that candidate becomes the Republican Nominee for President. There are only 2,422 total delegates, therefore a single delegate’s vote carries a lot of weight in choosing our Presidential nominee.
9. Do other states hold a Presidential Caucus, and are they similar to the Idaho Caucus?
Yes. Currently there are at least 20 other states that have some form of a caucus or convention system. In creating the new Idaho Caucus we were able to pick the best parts of the systems already in place throughout the country so that we could implement a new system quickly and effectively. You have to look no further than Wyoming to find a system very similar to Idaho’s new Caucus. However, the Wyoming caucus is more restrictive than Idaho’s, essentially allowing only precinct men and women to vote.
10. Why not just move the entire primary election from May to March?
The Idaho Primary involves much more than voting for Presidential Nominees. The primary includes selecting nominees for many local, state, and federal offices. We do not need to change the timing for all nominations to have a national voice in the Presidential race. For a voice in the Presidential Nomination process, we need only to have a Caucus moved to March.
Also, the timing of the Idaho Primary is set by Idaho Statute to be in late May (mainly to accommodate legislators’ campaign efforts following a legislative session). Moving the Primary to March would require legislative action and make it difficult for incumbent legislators to run their primary campaigns.
11. Won’t a Caucus System invite criticism for the Republican Party?
For something as important as choosing our Presidential Nominee, we should worry less about criticism than about making sure the process works for Idaho Republicans to help select the best possible nominee for the office of President. Many other states use a caucus system; Idaho Republicans will be doing what those states already do.
12. This is a big move, why does it seem so rushed?
To comply with the rules of the Republican National Committee, any changes to Idaho’s national convention delegate selection process had to be adopted prior to October 2011. However Idaho’s new Caucus proposal was given careful consideration prior to being adopted. The proposal had already gone through several steps before being put to the committee for consideration. First, it was reviewed by the Idaho Republican Party Rules Committee in early February, where it was proposed to form a subcommittee to write rules for a caucus—the proposal passed unanimously. Second, the subcommittee researched many other caucus systems, and it agreed that this system is best for Idaho. In June, it was agreed unanimously to submit the changes to the State Central Committee. In July, it was debated and passed at a meeting of the Idaho Republican Party State Central Committee, where representatives from every corner of the state gather to offer their input.
13. What happens if the winner of the Idaho Republican Presidential Nomination Caucus is not the same person who ends up as the “presumptive nominee” at the Republican National Convention? Will we be wasting our Idaho delegate votes?
The Caucus rules provide for safeguards for this scenario. First, Idaho’s delegates are only bound to vote for the winner of the Idaho Caucus on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention, leaving them free to vote for a different candidate if a second ballot is required. Also, the winning candidate of the Idaho Caucus is allowed to release Idaho’s delegates to a different candidate by writing a letter to that effect to the State Chairman of the Idaho GOP.
14. Will guidelines be available for County Central Committees informing them how best to conduct the Caucus process and voting procedures?
Yes, the Idaho Republican Party will play a supporting role to help make the process work and to help educate the counties and their leadership on how the Caucus system will be conducted.