Idaho Scrambles to Fund Presidential Primary After Budget “Slips Through the Cracks”

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Legislators in Idaho had to scramble to find the required $2 million for the state’s 2020 presidential primary after the Secretary of State forgot to include it in his budget request. The Associated Press has more:

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney forgot to include money for the 2020 presidential primary in his budget, forcing legislative budget writers to scramble to find $2 million when the error was noticed.

The Idaho Press reports Denney failed to request the $2 million that will be needed next year to reimburse counties for the cost of holding the primary. The state is required by law to reimburse the counties for that expense, so Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members scrambled to find a place to pull the funds. Ultimately, they were forced to pull the forgotten line item from the general fund…

Republican Rep. Paul Amador from Coeur d’Alene asked Denney about it Wednesday morning, as the committee was about to vote on the budget.

“Obviously, budget writers never like surprises, and the presidential primary is an additional line item in here,” Amador said. “I’m just curious as to what happened and why that wasn’t included, and then maybe the protocols you’re putting in place to make sure it isn’t a surprise next time.”

Denney said it simply “slipped through the cracks,” noting it had never been a part of the office’s budget in the past.

“This is in the actual budget, so I think from here on out, here every four years it will show up, so I don’t think it will fall through the cracks,” Denney said. “We will notice from here on out.”

Bair responded, “That would be very good.”

The Idaho Press has a little more detail on the source of the confusion, which stems from the fact that the presidential primary is a relatively new occurrence in the Gem State:

The Legislature in 2015 created a stand-alone presidential primary, to be held on the second Tuesday in March in each presidential year, for the Republican primary presidential election in 2016, and required the state to pick up all the costs. That’s two months before Idaho’s existing primary election date. The bill was controversial and drew bipartisan opposition, but was sponsored by House and Senate GOP leaders, and passed and was signed into law by then-Gov. Butch Otter. At the time, only the Idaho Republican Party, whose primary elections are closed to all non-party members, and the state’s tiny Constitution Party were holding presidential primary elections; Democrats were choosing their presidential delegates through caucuses.

Last June at its state convention, the Idaho Democratic Party voted to switch to a presidential primary, rather than caucuses, in 2020. “We’re already paying for it,” party Chairman Bert Marley said then. “It’s coming out of our tax money. We decided if we’re paying for it, we might as well be using it, too.”

The budget set for the Idaho Secretary of State’s office for next year, approved on a unanimous vote in the joint committee, came to $5.7 million in state general funds, a 50.7 percent increase, because of the additional $2 million item.

Obviously, budget writers never like surprises – but in this case I’m glad the legislature was able to find the funds rather than leave localities holding the bill. It’s a helpful reminder that even state policymakers can be confused by the details of budget writing as laws change – and, I suppose, will send many election officials back to triple (quadruple?) check their budget requests in the months and years ahead. Look sharp – and stay tuned …

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