As Election Night gave way to early Wednesday morning, the state superintendent’s race came down to Ada County.
And that kept Jana Jones in the hunt.
Republican Sherri Ybarra had gradually and steadily built a small lead throughout the evening, opening up a 10,191-vote margin.
Just after 3 a.m., only 72 of Idaho’s 965 precincts were left uncounted. But votes from virtually all of Idaho’s red expanse had been tallied, accounting for Ybarra’s lead. Sixty-nine of the outstanding precincts were within Ada County, where Jones, the Democratic nominee, was running strong.
At that point, Ada County elections officials had polished off the count in 76 precincts — and Jones had outpolled Ybarra by 17,170 votes. A similar showing in the remaining precincts would be more than enough to erase Ybarra’s lead and give Jones the election.
When the final ballots were tallied, Jones gained ground, but not enough. Ybarra had hung on for a 5,715-vote victory.
Let’s take a deeper look at Tuesday’s numbers.
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Where did Jones and Ybarra win?
Jones managed to get 49.3 percent of the vote while carrying only nine counties. She won Ada, Bannock, Blaine, Latah and Teton counties, the areas A.J. Balukoff also won in his gubernatorial bid. Jones also won her home turf, Bonneville County, a rare feat for a Democrat. She also picked up Nez Perce, Power and Shoshone counties.
That left the rest of Idaho to Ybarra. She racked up big wins in rural counties that almost always go Republican, clearing the 70 percent mark in Bear Lake, Franklin, Oneida and Owyhee counties. She also pulled down 62.5 percent of the vote in Kootenai County, good for a 9,000-vote edge in the raw numbers.
(For more about the county-by-county breakdown, and an interactive map, click on this story from Emilie Ritter Saunders of Boise State Public Radio.)
Undervoting was a factor.
When the numbers became final Wednesday, “Idaho Reports” anchor Melissa Davlin noticed a significant undervote. Thousands of voters went to the polls Tuesday — but didn’t vote for Ybarra or Jones.
All told, 428,403 Idahoans voted in the superintendent’s race, compared to 439,738 votes cast in the high-profile governor’s race and 437,119 votes cast in a low-key (and ultimately unsuspenseful) race for U.S. Senate.
The undervote suggests that voters were unimpressed with both superintendent’s candidates, or fed up by the campaign, Davlin wrote Wednesday. “I chatted up Republican and independent politicos over the last two weeks. Many voted for Jana Jones or left the race blank altogether.”
Those thousands of blank ballots, by themselves, probably weren’t enough to swing the outcome of a race decided by more than 5,700 votes. But Jones needed every vote she could get, so the undervote ended up hurting her and helping Ybarra.
Ada County vs. the rest of the state.
The reason Ada County gave Jones’ campaign a glimmer of hope was simple: Even in a big year for Republicans, Democrats ran strong in the state’s largest county.
Balukoff, secretary of state’s candidate Holli Woodings and treasurer’s candidate Deborah Silver all carried Ada County. Democrats protected 12 legislative seats in Boise, and none of the races were close. Democrats also captured a surprisingly contentious race for county coroner.
The superintendent’s race, among others, illustrates the growing electoral split between Ada County (and particularly Boise) and the rest of the state.
Jones carried Ada County by 20,787 votes, garnering a 58.6 percent majority.
Ybarra carried the remaining 43 counties by 27,510 votes, good for a 54.6 percent majority.