Mixed signals for primary election turnout

Here’s another sign of turnout for this year’s unprecedented vote-by-mail primary — and the signals are mixed.

As of May 1, more than 185,000 Idahoans have requested absentee ballots, Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported Tuesday. That number, compiled by Foresight Public Affairs, includes 65,094 voters in Ada County and 21,476 voters in Canyon County.

By contrast, 269,467 Idahoans voted in the May 2018 primary — when both Republicans and Democrats were embroiled in heated and costly gubernatorial contests. But in 2016, only 176,806 Idahoans voted in the primary, a paltry 23 percent turnout.

So in other words, more people have requested ballots than voted in 2016.

And the 2016 election is a fair comparison to 2020. Then, as now, the ballot contains some lower-profile congressional primaries, a laundry list of legislative primaries and a smattering of school ballot measures across the state. The highest-profile primary in 2016 was a state Supreme Court race; the top two vote-getters, Robyn Brody and Curt McKenzie, advanced to the general election, with Brody winning the vacant court spot.

In an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus, polling places will be closed for this year’s primary, and all voting will take place by mail. Voters must request a ballot from their county clerk or the secretary of state’s office by May 19, the regularly scheduled election date. They must mail back their ballots by June 2 — and election results will be released that night.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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