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Eye On Boise

Vote today - fight the trend toward decreasing turnout in Idaho primary elections…

"Vote Here" sign at Idaho polling place on Tuesday, May 20, 2014 (Betsy Russell)

At my local polling place this morning, things seemed pretty slow. There were one or two other voters there when I arrived; none when I left. Poll workers said it’d been steady all morning, with a slow but near-constant trickle of voters showing up; there was no before-work rush. There certainly were no lines.

Voter turnout in Idaho’s primary elections has been declining for years, even as general-election turnout has remained relatively strong. Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is projecting a turnout of 27 percent today, which would be an improvement from the 24 percent of registered voters who cast ballots two years ago, but only back up to the 2010 level. In the 2012 general election, turnout was 74 percent of registered voters.

Ten years ago, in 2004, primary turnout was 26.8 percent, general election was 76.8 percent. In 1994, primary turnout was 33.3 percent, general was 67 percent.

“The numbers in terms of turnout are very discouraging,” said Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby. “When it comes to the general election, people in Idaho seem to think that’s the real election, and in many races it isn’t. In 1980, 34 years ago, there were 200,000 ballots cast (in the primary).” At that point, with Idaho’s lower population, that was a 41.34 percent turnout. “I think we’re hoping, 34 years later, that there will be 200,000 ballots cast or a few more,” Weatherby said, to make 27 percent. “It’s a sad commentary on our level of participation in primary elections, and they’ve been dropping over the years – when in many races this is the de facto election. That’s true in a one-party state.”

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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