Election night approaches: Here’s what you need to know

An unprecedented Idaho primary election is coming down to the wire.

For voters and donors alike.

Here’s what you need to know, as the election nears its conclusion:

Can I still vote? Yes, if you move quickly. If you want your voice heard in this all vote-by-mail primary, you need to get your ballot in to your county clerk’s office by 8 p.m. Tuesday. A postmark isn’t good enough, so at this point, it’s really not a vote-by-mail primary any more. Your best bet is to hand deliver your ballot. (Check with your county clerk’s office for details.)

Can I still get a ballot? No dice. That time has come and gone. On May 22, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill extended the deadline to request a ballot, saying problems on the secretary of state’s website kept voters from requesting a ballot by the original May 19 deadline. The revised deadline was May 26.

Can I vote in person? No. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, all polling places are closed. For the first time, Idaho is conducting an all-absentee ballot election.

What does the turnout look like? It could be surprisingly heavy, at least for a primary election.

About 429,000 Idahoans requested absentee ballots. That represents about 47 percent of the state’s 907,342 registered voters.

That doesn’t guarantee we’ll see a 47 percent turnout. But Idaho hasn’t had 40 percent turnout for a spring primary since 1980. As for the recent history, the 2016 turnout was 23 percent. Two years ago — with big-money gubernatorial primaries on the ballot — the turnout improved, but only to 32 percent.

Who’s running? On the state level, Republicans and Democrats have contested congressional or Senate primaries. None are nearly as heated as the 2018 gubernatorial primaries, however.

But all 105 legislative seats are up for election this year, and there are 45 contested legislative primaries on the ballot this spring.

This includes several open Senate primaries, as Republicans vie to replace retiring President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer and Transportation Committee Chairman Bert Brackett.

This also includes contested Democratic primaries in Boise, with candidates vying for vacancies in blue legislative districts.

And it includes some hotly contested House Republican primaries. Taken together, these races could swing the balance of power in a House already divided between hardline conservatives and more mainstream lawmakers.

What about school elections? All told, 15 school districts will run $78.1 million in ballot measures — including a $28 million West Ada supplemental levy and a $26 million Jerome bond issue. (Click here for the full rundown.)   

What’s the latest on campaign fundraising? Even in the homestretch, legislative candidates have to report large, last-minute donations. And the late money again reveals ideological rifts within Republican circles.

A few notables:

  • Middleton School Board chairman Kirk Adams reported $14,000 in campaign loans as he seeks to unseat Rep, Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton.
  • Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca Inc. and its billionaire CEO, Frank VanderSloot, continue to support candidates facing challengers (or incumbents) aligned with the Idaho Freedom Foundation. The beneficiaries include Rep, Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, facing a challenge from former Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg; Marco Erickson, who is challenging Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls; and Bonneville County Commissioner Dave Radford, who is running against Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon.
  • The Kootenai County Republican Party supported Zollinger and Christensen.
  • Money Metals Exchange, an Eagle-based bullion dealership, and Stefan Gleason, the company’s Charlotte, N.C.-based president, gave late donations to several conservatives: Nichols, former Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, who is challenging House Education Committee member Jerald Raymond, R-Menan; and Marla Lawson of Lowman, who is hoping to unseat Senate Education Vice Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.

When will get results? Sometime after 9 p.m. MDT/8 p.m. PDT Tuesday, the cutoff to turn in ballots. In theory, at least, the numbers could come quickly. Recently, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said his elections office would start counting ballots early, and release nearly-complete results right after Tuesday night’s cutoff.

Check back at Idaho Education News Tuesday night for results, and look for followup coverage later in the week.

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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