BOISE – Idaho voters are riled up and ready to vote, with a contentious school-reform debate reverberating in the state’s airwaves and decisions looming on every seat in the Legislature, key local races, two constitutional amendments and seats in Congress.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting that 78 percent of the state’s registered voters will cast ballots, and forecasting a long night of ballot-counting before final results are tallied. Some large counties have advised election-night workers their shifts could run to 5 a.m. the next day.
“Early voting has been heavy,” Ysursa said. “Certainly we think the presidential year obviously drives turnout – Gov. (Mitt) Romney’s very strong in this state. And it’s obvious Propositions 1, 2 and 3, with the campaign spending getting these messages out, is going to be a catalyst for turnout.”
With its heavy Mormon population – nearly a third of the state’s residents are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the prospect of the nation possibly electing its first Mormon president has drawn positive attention in Idaho.
But it’s the controversial school reform propositions that have driven the election debate in Idaho this year.
At the urging of state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, Idaho lawmakers in 2011 enacted sweeping reforms, from curbing teachers’ collective bargaining rights and imposing a new merit-pay bonus system to requiring laptop computers for every high school student and a new focus on online learning. After three years of sharp cuts in school funding, the changes were billed as a way to educate more students at a higher level without spending more money.
Thousands of citizens signed petitions to contest the laws, and the result is three propositions on Tuesday’s ballot.
A “yes” vote keeps the laws; a “no” vote repeals them. The laws need a simple majority support to stand.
Polls will be open Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and as early as 7 a.m. in some areas, including Kootenai County. Information about polling places, many of which have changed since the last election, is available online at www.idahovotes.gov.
Idaho is one of just eight states that allows same-day registration at the polls. Voters who want to register must bring a photo ID and proof of residence if their current residence isn’t listed on their ID. For those already registered, a photo ID is required, but those without can sign a simple affidavit to verify their identity.
“The goal is no valid eligible voter gets turned away,” Ysursa said.
In Kootenai County, four candidates are competing to be the first new county sheriff in 13 years; 10 candidates are vying for three seats on the North Idaho College board of trustees; and voters are being asked if they want to switch to a county manager system.
Legislative races include the battle for tax-protesting Rep. Phil Hart’s seat between Republican Ed Morse and Democrat Dan English, after Hart lost in the primary. Hart ally Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, who’s calling for Christians to pull their children out of “godless” public schools, faces Democratic challenger Cheryl Stransky, also of Dalton Gardens.
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the lead legislative sponsor of the school reform laws, faces challenges from retired teacher and military officer Warren Ducote Jr., a Democrat, and independent Jeremy Boggess. Democrats are vying for every legislative seat in Kootenai County this year; in past elections, they’d conceded many without challenge.
First-term U.S Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican, faces a challenge from former NFL football player Jimmy Farris, a Democrat and Lewiston native whose high-energy campaigning has had him traveling the 1st Congressional District in his BMW despite a dearth of fundraising.
Two constitutional amendments are on the ballot. One is SJR 102, a one-word change regarding probation services that matches the constitution’s wording to current practices. The other is more controversial: HJR2aa would enshrine in the Idaho Constitution a right to hunt, fish and trap. Thirteen states have done that, but only five specifically mention trapping. Lawmakers also added clauses to the amendment to protect water rights and address other issues, raising questions about possible unintended consequences. Still, such proposals almost always pass, particularly in outdoorsy states like Idaho.
Constitutional amendments need a two-thirds vote in each house of the Legislature to make the ballot and a simple majority of the voters to pass.