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Eye on Boise: Voter figures so far show just a small crossover in primary

Idaho’s primary election is May 15. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho’s primary election is May 15. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

How might crossover voting – people switching parties to vote in a different party’s primary election – affect Idaho’s upcoming high-stakes May 15 primary, with positions up for grabs including an open governor’s seat? There are some numbers available, but so far they don’t show a huge shift.

The Idaho Republican Party’s primary is closed, meaning only those who affiliate as Republicans can cast ballots; the Democratic primary is open, so anyone can vote. March 9 was the deadline to switch from one party registration to another, but unaffiliated voters can affiliate with a new party at the polls on Election Day.

Gary Moncrief, emeritus political scientist at Boise State University, has been tracking statewide voter registration figures. So far, he said, it appears that about 1,000 voters statewide have switched their registration from Democrat to Republican since the fall; that’s an estimate based on total registration figures by party.

In Ada County, the state’s most populated county, Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane reports, “We did see activity – we could see where right toward the end of February, beginning of March, where people were switching deliberately.” But the numbers weren’t large compared to the total number of voters.

Ada County saw 845 registered Democratic voters officially switch their registration to Republican between Jan. 1 and the March 9 deadline for such switches. Another 10 Libertarians, six Constitution Party members, and 1,100 unaffiliated voters also switched to become registered Republicans.

However, there also were 54 registered Republicans who switched their affiliation to the Democratic Party, and 225 unaffiliated voters who switched to become registered Democrats.

McGrane said there used to be far more unaffiliated voters, but large numbers of those switched to Republican before the March 2016 Idaho presidential primary election, so they could vote in that closed primary.

McGrane said he heard lots of speculation in the fall about Democrats switching to Republican to vote in the hotly contested GOP primary for governor this spring, but since then, a contested Democratic primary race for governor also shaped up, with former state Rep. Paulette Jordan going up against 2014 Democratic nominee A.J. Balukoff. “That may have changed the landscape,” McGrane said. “Both parties have something to contend for.”

In the 2014 Idaho primary election, 196,982 Idahoans voted statewide, 44,149 of those in Ada County. In the 2016 primary, the totals were 176,806 statewide and 35,363 in Ada County. If the turnout is in the same range – and with all the big races on the ballot this year, it should be higher – the figures so far suggest crossover statewide would account for only a fraction of a percent of votes.

‘Cesspool of liberalism’

Idaho Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Moscow, at a candidate forum last week in Fernwood, Idaho, referred to the county he represents in the Legislature as a “cesspool of liberalism,” the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reported. “Latah County, particularly the university, greater Moscow area, is a cesspool of liberalism,” Foreman told a crowd of roughly 50 at UpRiver Bible Church in Fernwood; some of the attendees applauded Foreman’s remarks.

Foreman, an outspoken conservative, represents a mixed district; two years ago, he narrowly defeated Democratic Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow. Foreman’s been in the news for shouting down constituents who try to talk to him about issues, including a profanity-laced confrontation at the local county fair last September that drew police attention, and yelling “Abortion is murder!” at a group of University of Idaho students who came to the Capitol to lobby for a birth control bill.

He also cast one of just two votes in the Senate this year against the budget for the University of Idaho, the largest employer in his district, saying he believes the university has “a left-wing, exceedingly liberal agenda.”

Foreman faces former Moscow Mayor Marshall Comstock in the May 15 GOP primary; the winner will face Democrat David Nelson, of Moscow, in November.

A change in store for me

After 26 years with The Spokesman-Review, I will be taking another position on May 7, as the new Boise bureau chief and state capital reporter for the Idaho Press-Tribune and Adams Publishing Group, which also owns the Idaho State Journal, the Idaho Falls Post Register, and a number of smaller Idaho newspapers. My last day with The Spokesman-Review will be May 4.

Some of my work will continue to appear in The Spokesman-Review – including an article about the crowded 1st District congressional race that’s scheduled to run May 6.

I have loved working for The Spokesman-Review, a fine, top-quality family-owned newspaper, and I’m looking forward to a new challenge at the Press-Tribune and Adams, another family-owned company.