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Eye On Boise

Ysursa predicts 58 percent turnout in November, says it should be higher

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa speaks in Boise on Wednesday (Betsy Russell)
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa speaks in Boise on Wednesday (Betsy Russell)

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is predicting 58 percent turnout in the Nov. 4 general election – that’s 58 percent of registered voters, and is equal to roughly 39 to 40 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population. “It’s not something to write home about,” he said. “I am disturbed, troubled and concerned about the decline in voter participation.”

In a brown-bag luncheon speech to ISU alumni in Boise today, Ysursa said Idaho’s voter turnout has been on a steady decline since the record 1980 election in which Steve Symms defeated Idaho Sen. Frank Church. That trend has continued even though Idaho has removed many obstacles to voting – it’s one of just eight states with election-day registration at the polls, and it now offers no-excuse absentee voting and early voting.

“What is the answer to increasing voter turnout?” Ysursa asked. “I’ve been trying to figure that out for 40 years. … I do know that the process needs to be inclusive and not exclusive.” Click below for more.

Ysursa, who is retiring at the end of the year, has been Idaho’s Secretary of State since 2002, and before that served many years as chief deputy to the late former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa. “It has been my honor and privilege to serve,” Ysursa told the capacity audience of about 60 people.

He said Idaho has built a reputation for free and fair elections over the years, even as other states electoral operations have been called into question, most notably Florida in the 2000 presidential election. Ysursa shared the story of the 1984 2nd Congressional District election, in which then-GOP Congressman George Hansen lost narrowly to Democratic challenger Richard Stallings. “The difference on election night was 139 votes,” Ysursa said. “Needless to say, Congressman Hansen wanted a recount.”

National Democratic Party officials feared Idaho’s GOP secretary of state’s office would “steal the election,” so they sent observers out from Washington, D.C. to watch Idaho’s recount. The Hansen campaign picked counties where there were big undervotes – where voters cast ballots for Republicans Ronald Reagan for president and Jim McClure for senator, but not for Hansen for Congress. But there was nothing nefarious in that, Ysursa said. “I’m here to tell you that there are intentional undervotes. I saw many of them. … Frankly, there were many a ballot that checked Reagan, that checked Jim McClure, that left Mr. Hansen blank.”

The national observers watched Idaho poll workers, the same ones who had counted the ballots originally, carefully recounting the paper ballots. “They were very diligent, they did their job,” Ysursa said. “When it was all over, it was a 170-vote difference.” The observers, he said, “talked to the folks in D.C. and said, ‘There’s nothing going on here. These Idaho folks know how to count ballots.’”

Ysursa said, “Partisanship really has no place in conducting free and fair elections, it really doesn’t.”

He said he’s troubled by the decline in civility in politics, calling it “appalling.” Said Ysursa, “The vitriol I see here is of course not only between R’s and D’s, but also in my own party. I affectionately refer to it as our circular firing squad.”  He cited Reagan’s oft-repeated 80-20 rule, saying, “Somebody who agrees with me 80 percent of the time is my friend and ally – not a 20 percent traitor.”

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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