Primary primer: How to navigate the 2020 primary elections

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Bonner County Elections supervisor Charlie Wurm is gearing up for “three days of craziness here,” as voters prepare to head to the polls Tuesday, March 10 for the first of two primaries ahead of the November general election. 

The Constitution, Democratic and Republican parties will all hold presidential primaries March 10, when voters will determine who they want to appear on their respective ballots for the office of president of the United States. Then, on Tuesday, May 19, voters will return to the polls to cast ballots for state and county candidates. 

The reason Wurm is planning ahead for “craziness” stems from Idaho’s peculiar rules regarding party affiliation. In 2012, the Idaho Republican Party closed its primary elections to only those who declare themselves as party members. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party allows both registered members and unaffiliated voters to vote on their ballots. Likewise, the Constitution Party opens its primaries to both party members and those who are unaffiliated.

Because primary balloting is determined by party membership, Wurm is expecting a rush of voters to declare or alter their affiliation up to and including the March 10 election — then another rush up to and including Friday, March 13, which is the deadline for declaring party allegiance, or claim unaffiliated status, prior to the May election. 

“This is the first time we’re going to see this,” Wurm said, referring to the churn of affiliation declarations, as voters strategically align themselves to vote on ballots where they think they’ll have the biggest impact — then turn around and shift their party identification to position themselves for participation in the state and local elections in May.

“A lot of the people in the county are switching over to the Democratic [presidential] ballot because that’s actually an interesting race, whereas the Republican ballot is pretty much already decided,” he said. “Then they’ll want to switch back and vote on the commissioners’ race.”

The deadline to declare as unaffiliated in the March 10 presidential primary has already passed. However, there is time from March 11 to March 13 to change affiliation — including to “unaffiliated” — for the May primary. No changes to affiliation will be accepted after March 13, though unaffiliated voters can declare party membership at the polls on Election Day.

If that all sounds confusing, it’s because it is. 

“It’s very difficult to explain it to everybody,” Wurm said, but this will be the last time voters have to navigate such a complex system of declarations and deadlines. 

New legislation at the Statehouse will in the future require party affiliation 90 days prior to an election, eliminating the last-minute scramble. 

“And I’m really happy about that,” Wurm added. “They’re going to have to decide well before the election.”

However, that change won’t go into effect until the 2024 elections.

In the meantime, in-person absentee voting is ongoing through Friday, March 6 at the Elections Office in the Bonner County Administration Building, 1500 Hwy. 2, Ste. 124. The office, located on the first floor, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. 

Bonner County Elections staff will also be publicly testing its ballot counting equipment on Tuesday, March 3 at 10 a.m. in the county administration building, first floor conference room. 

Election Day ballots will be cast at voters’ usual polling places, where — as allowed by Idaho law — residents may register at the polls. To register on the day of the election, bring photo identification and proof of residency. To find your polling place, go to and enter your address. 

Polls will be open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10.

Pre-registration for the May 19 primary opens Wednesday, March 11 and will end April 24, with paper forms due by 5 p.m. and a deadline of midnight for online registration. Early voting for the May 19 election begins April 27 with the deadline for absentee and early voting at 5 p.m. on May 15.

State and county candidates will file their declarations to run for office Monday, March 2 through March 13.

For more information on the party affiliation process, or other elections information, contact the Bonner County Elections Office at 208-255-3631 or email [email protected]. Sandpoint Online Elections Central also has information about party affiliation — as well as other elections information — at

Dates to Remember:

Tuesday, March 10

Presidential primary election, polls open 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Friday, March 13

Deadline to change political party affiliation, or become “unaffiliated” before the Tuesday, May 19 primary.

Friday, April 24

Pre-registration deadline for May 19 state and county primary election.

Monday, April 27-Friday, May 15

Early voting period for May 19 primary.

Friday, May 8

Deadline for absentee ballot applications, must be delivered to 

Bonner County Clerk by 5 p.m.

Tuesday, May 19

State and county primary election, polls open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Important Websites:

Bonner County Elections: 

(includes sample ballots and party affiliation form)

Idaho Secretary of State Elections Division:

Sandpoint Online Elections Central:

Idaho Votes: (provides information about polling places)

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