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Quick and easy: Idaho GOP voters gather across the state at 210 sites for 2024 presidential caucus

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Quick and easy: Idaho GOP voters gather across the state at 210 sites for 2024 presidential caucus

Mar 02, 2024 | 7:08 pm ET
By Mia Maldonado Clark Corbin Kyle Pfannenstiel
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Quick and easy: Idaho GOP voters gather across the state at 210 sites for 2024 presidential caucus
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A line of Idaho voters forms for the Republican Presidential Caucus at Whittier Elementary in Boise on March 2, 2024. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

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NAMPA and BOISE – As Idaho Republican voters lined up in windy 30-degree weather to vote Saturday at Nampa’s Columbia High School, some were unsure what to expect inside — where they’d help decide which Republican candidate should be the presidential frontrunner for 2024.

GOP chairwoman announces Trump wins Idaho’s 2024 Republican presidential caucus

But within 10 to 15 minutes, some voters had already cast their ballots and were headed back to their cars. 

Amanda Jackson, who took the day off work to participate, said she has previously participated in a primary, but Saturday was her first time voting in a caucus. 

“I liked the caucus experience because you get some information before you make your vote,” she told the Idaho Capital Sun. “I like being able to be given a little bit of information before I make my final decision, so that’s really nice. I wanted to be a part of the change.” 

The Idaho GOP last held a presidential caucus in 2012, while the Idaho Democratic Party last held one in 2016, but Idaho has held primary elections since. Idaho is conducting presidential caucuses again this year because the Idaho Legislature unintentionally eliminated the presidential primary election last year as part of an effort to consolidate elections and save taxpayers money. 

Voters wait to enter the Idaho Republican Presidential Caucus site at Columbia High School in Nampa
Voters wait to enter the Idaho Republican Presidential Caucus site at Columbia High School in Nampa. The line outside the building thinned out within an hour after the caucus started midday. (Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho Republicans share mixed feelings about caucus 

Like Jackson, many voters described the experience as quick and efficient. Some voters said they preferred the Saturday date, noting that they work during the week and feel less fatigued on the weekend. 

But several others said that the process was “confusing,” and “ridiculous,” critiquing the GOP caucus system because it excludes Republicans who could not attend in person, in comparison to a primary system that offers polling from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and includes early voting and absentee options. 

“I prefer the primary had the Legislature not messed it up in the first place just to do this on a Saturday,” Nampa voter Maggie Goff said. “Hopefully (Idaho GOP Chairwoman) Dorothy Moon and the rest of them will fix it for next time.” 

One voter, Tendra Andrews, told the Sun that while the voting process was efficient and fast, she still prefers the primary system. 

“I like the old primary system better,” Andrews said. “I liked the computers. This is going to have to be hand counted, and I just like knowing that it’s secure. We didn’t have a bad experience—  this was great. But if I had a choice, I’d go back to the primaries.”

Voters show hand stamp for Idaho GOP caucus
Melanie and El Rico Evans had their hands stamped with a check mark after voting for Donald Trump in Idaho’s Republican Presidential Caucus on March 2, 2024. It was both of their first times voting in a caucus. (Kyle Pfannenstiel/Idaho Capital Sun)

Ward Pyles said he hadn’t been to a caucus before. And even before voting in Saturday’s caucus, he said he’d prefer a primary because of the time involved in a caucus. 

He was in and out of the caucus line within 15 minutes. In an interview after voting, he said the only candidate’s presentation he heard in the caucus was from Nikki Hailey, who he said he doesn’t think has a chance of winning. 

“I didn’t bother to listen to her. So I just went in, they handed me a card, and so I just put my vote in. … And that was it,” said Pyles, who said he voted for Trump.

He figured that he would be at the caucus for 90 minutes, based on what he’d seen online. 

“I didn’t want to spend 90 minutes there. But if that’s what I had to do, that’s what I had to do,” Pyles said. 

What’s a caucus, again? And what was on the ballot? 

Caucuses, unlike primaries, are meetings entirely funded and organized by political parties to choose candidates. 

Saturday’s caucus was run entirely by the Idaho Republican Party, not the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office or local county election offices. Moon announced at 6:35 p.m. Mountain Time that former President Donald J. Trump won the Idaho Republican Presidential Caucus and would win all 32 of the states delegates.  

In Idaho, there were six names on the ballot:

  • Trump
  • Nikki Haley
  • Chris Christie 
  • Ron DeSantis
  • Vivek Ramaswamy
  • Ryan L. Binkley

Up for grabs in Idaho were 32 delegates, which candidates hope to win and amass as they look to secure their party’s nomination for president. The Des Moines Register reported it will take 1,215 delegates to win the Republican Party’s nomination. 

Even though all of the other candidates besides Trump and Haley have dropped out of the race, the other four candidates’ names still appeared on the ballots in Idaho because the candidate’s each paid a $50,000 filing fee, Idaho Republican Party officials said. 

To participate in the Idaho Republican Presidential Caucus, voters had to be registered and affiliated with the Idaho Republican Party by Dec. 31 and attend their local caucus site in person. There was no option for an absentee ballot or early voting. That rule meant members of the military serving away from home, religious missionaries, people who had to work, people who were unable to find child care and people who could not obtain transportation were unable to vote in the caucus. 

News reporters and independent observers who were not affiliated with the Idaho Republican Party were not allowed inside of the caucus sites or allowed to observe the counting of ballots or tabulation of results. News reporters were allowed to interview caucus participants outside of the caucus sites before and after the event. 

Upbeat Boise voters, quick turnaround at Whittier Elementary caucus site

Three food trucks and a Girl Scout cookie stand greeted Republican voters at Whittier Elementary School, where all Republicans living in Legislative District 19 held their caucus. 

A short line started forming outside the door at about 11:45 a.m., with the length of the line appearing to peak at about 80 voters at approximately 12:15 p.m. 

Several voters told the Idaho Capital Sun the line moved quickly, and they were able to get in and out in 15 minutes or less. 

“It was well organized and I got through quick,” said Ed Gast, who said he supported Trump.

Gast lived in Iowa before moving to Idaho so he had participated in a caucus before. Gast said Idaho’s caucus wasn’t what we expected based on his experiences in Iowa. The Idaho caucus site didn’t feature the pomp and pageantry of  group meetings, speeches in favor of the candidates or the opportunity to persuade fellow voters, he said.

Several voters told the Sun that party officials appeared to have difficulty getting videos from Trump and other candidates to play during the caucus at Whittier Elementary.

Instead, Gast and his friends arrived, checked in and verified their identity and received a paper ballot with the six Republican candidates listed. 

Once voters turned in a ballot, they were free to stay and hang out and wait for the results to be announced. But Gast and dozens of other Idaho Republicans left shortly after turning in their ballots instead of waiting for results to be announced later in the afternoon. 

Overall, Gast had a positive experience Saturday but said he would lean toward supporting a primary election over a caucus, saying the primary election would be easier and likely produce a higher voter turnout. 

Voter Denise Caruzzi attended the caucus at Whittier Elementary to support Nikki Hayley, saying she appreciates Haley’s “fresh approach, integrity and position on many issues.”

Like Gast, Caruzzi also thought there would be more of an event feel to Saturday’s caucus, thinking there would be more opportunities to talk about the candidates inside and talk with her neighbors. 

Caruzzi said also she knows several people who were not able to participate in Saturday’s caucus, which is why she would prefer to vote in a primary election where voters can vote at their convenience throughout the day, vote absentee or vote early.

“For sure a primary,” Caruzzi told the Sun. “This makes it too difficult.”

Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane
Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane discusses his presidential caucus experiences outside of his caucus site at Whittier Elementary in Boise on March 2, 2024. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Republican Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane also attended the caucus at Whittier Elementary. McGrane stayed inside for about an hour, lingering to visit with fellow Republicans long after he filled out his ballot. McGrane was not involved with organizing or overseeing the caucus and said he was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the line moved. 

“I will say the energy felt great today, just having people together,” McGrane told the Sun as he left his caucus site. “I think one of the most impressive parts of it was the flow, the line. There was a pretty healthy line when I got here, but it was always moving. And as long as the line is moving, you make a lot of new friends in line.”

“Today felt good,” McGrane, who declined to share who he voted for, added. 

Several people at the Whittier Elementary School caucus brought their children to the caucus, which Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon encouraged. At least two people also brought their dogs inside the caucus and emerged a short time later with smiles on the people’s faces and tails wagging on the dogs.

One protester, a woman with a free Palestine flag or sign, also briefly entered the caucus site and quickly left just before four Boise Police Department officers arrived at the school. The police officers briefly visited with a security officer from MAV Event Services who was working inside the caucus site when the protester entered. The police left moments later without appearing to issue any arrests or take anyone into custody. 

Longtime Idaho columnist says caucus ‘handled remarkably well’ in Meridian

Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho political columnist, said his caucus location at Capital Church in Meridian was crowded with voters. The registration and ballot process went smoothly, as if the party “had been doing this for years,” he said. He said he spent about 40 minutes at his site.

Typical political video messages from Trump and Haley’s campaigns were shown, with Trump’s receiving a rousing ovation and Hayley’s receiving polite applause, Malloy said.

“This worked better than I thought it would,” he said in a phone interview. “There’s no question regular voting is much preferred over the caucus, but this was handled remarkably well.”

Voters enter for the Idaho Republican Presidential Caucus at Whittier Elementary in Boise
Voters enter for the Idaho Republican Presidential Caucus at Whittier Elementary in Boise on March 2, 2024. The caucus site featured food trucks and Girl Scouts selling cookies. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

What’s next for Idaho voters?

Idaho voters are participating in both a presidential caucus and a state primary election this year. 

The state primary election, which features legislative candidates, county sheriffs, county commissioners, county prosecutors and other local taxing district races, is May 21. 

The Democratic Party’s presidential nominating caucus is May 23. Absentee voting options are available for the Democratic caucus. However, voters who voted in the Republican presidential caucus will not be allowed to vote in the Democratic presidential caucus, too. 

Idaho has both a presidential nominating caucus and a state primary election this year because the Idaho Legislature seemingly unintentionally eliminated the presidential primary election last year and did not restore the presidential primary by passing a trailer bill or calling a special legislative session. 

Last year, the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 138, which supporters said was designed to move the presidential primary election back from March and move it to the May primary election when the state primaries are held. But rather than move the presidential primary to May, passing the bill just eliminated the presidential primary all together. 

The Idaho Republican Party said it completely paid for Saturday’s Idaho Republican Presidential Caucus, saving the state the estimated $2.7 million it takes to conduct a presidential primary election every four years.

Idaho Capital Sun editor-in-chief Christina Lords contributed to this report.