Following the highest voter turnout for midterm elections since 1994, Latah County officials – and some community members – are seeking additional polling stations in Moscow.
With the county’s midterm voter turnout nearing 71 percent, Latah County Auditor Henrianne Westberg said the crowds at Moscow’s single polling site, hosted on the Latah County Fairgrounds Nov. 6, exceeded her wildest expectations.
“If we continue to have engaged voters, I will definitely bring on more polling places,” Westberg said. “We could do three polling places in Moscow, but that’s a huge change from tradition.”
Westberg opted not to open Moscow’s voting location at the University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome this year saying students – and the general public – don’t typically turn out in large enough numbers for midterms to warrant two voting stations.
“Some years we could barely break teens, some years we would have 35 percent,” Westberg said by way of comparison. “The presidential elections are always huge – I don’t think they’ve ever been this high, but they’ve been in the 60 percents.”
UI Associated Student Body President Nicole Skinner said while she was lobbying to use the Kibbie Dome as a polling station ahead of the election, she was surprised by high turnout numbers as well.
“I think our side was a lot better understood after election day too, because one of the arguments that I kept hearing time and time again is that students don’t turn out to vote,” Skinner said. “I vividly remember telling people ‘This year is going to be different.’ ”
Skinner has since launched a signature gathering campaign in support of an additional station. At last count, she said at least 400 people have signed on in support.
Latah County Commissioner Dave McGraw said he understood Westberg’s decision to have only one polling station this year, noting that during past midterms, turnout at the Kibbie Dome has been relatively anemic.
Sometimes as few as 20 people would show up for the entire day, McGraw said.
Additionally, he said there have been access issues for people with disabilities.
“Access to the Kibbie Dome is not that great if you happen to be in a wheelchair or a set of crutches or something,” McGraw said. “Of course, access to the fairgrounds wasn’t that great either when the line was clear out to White Avenue.”
McGraw said county commissioners would likely defer to Westberg’s recommendation, but he is supportive of anything that can generate a greater degree of voter participation in coming elections.
Westberg said another polling station will help address the problem, but voters can save themselves and elections staff a significant amount of time if they register to vote before – rather than on – Election Day.
Skinner agreed that registration is important but said having an on-campus station would also help engage student voters who live on campus. She pointed out dormitories aren’t usually targeted by door-knocking campaigns, and student addresses receive relatively little by way of candidate literature.
“I really hope (Westberg) does move forward with adding some additional locations,” Skinner said. “Even this year, although it’s great so many people were excited to be civically engaged, there were a lot of people who were waiting even three plus hours to vote if they were registering on the same day as Election Day.”
Westberg said she would still like to consult with county commissioners and the Idaho Secretary of State, among others, but she anticipates having two, if not three, permanent annual polling stations in the future.
“I always try to get people out to vote. That’s a goal we have statewide with elections officials,” Westberg said. “This is a different generation, and that could bring about more engaged electorate, and that’s my hope.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.