Election results: West Ada, Middleton levies fail; Jerome bond fails

In an election punctuated by a smattering of intriguing legislative races and landslide congressional races, voters rejected school levies and bond issues from north-central Idaho to the Wyoming border.

In Idaho’s largest school district, the largest ballot measure of the night failed. The West Ada School District sought to renew a two-year, $28 million supplemental levy. The proposal received only 46 percent support, falling below the simple majority required to pass.

In all, 21,453 voters supported the levy, while 24,914 opposed it.

The levy accounts for about 5 percent of West Ada’s overall budget. The district has said the levy would help preserve school days and current staffing levels.

“I am sick,” trustee Steve Smylie wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday night. “We will start looking at what we can do starting at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.”

State and local elections officials began rolling out vote tallies shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday — shortly after the voting deadline came and went. Voters needed to get their ballots to their county clerk’s office by 8 p.m. local time Tuesday.

Legislative races

All 105 legislative seats are on the ballot this year, and 45 contested primaries were on the line Tuesday. Republican candidates filed to replace three prominent Senate veterans: President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer and Transportation Committee Chairman Bert Brackett. Democrats vied for vacancies in Boise blue strongholds. And across southern and eastern Idaho, GOP primaries pitted conservative hardliners against mainstream Republicans.

Here’s the rundown from some key primaries:

  • In a rematch from 2018, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, again defeated challenger Marla Lawson of Lowman. Thayn won with 55 percent support. The vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Thayn could be in line to succeed Mortimer as committee chair.
  • Dorothy Moon, a Stanley Republican and prominent conservative on the House Education Committee, defeated Salmon Republican LaVerne Sessions. Moon had 64 percent of the vote.
  • House Education Vice Chairman Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, defeated GOP challenger Jim Smith of Fruitlland. Kerby won with 64 percent of the vote.
  • Caldwell Republican Julie Yamamoto defeated incumbent Rep. Jarom Wagoner, R-Caldwell. Yamamoto received 58 percent support.
  • In another rematch, Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, again defeated GOP challenger Kirk Adams, chairman of the Middeton School Board. The two were part of a five-person primary in 2018. On Tuesday, Nichols won a head-to-head race with 59 percent of the vote.
  • Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, collected 56 percent of the vote in an open Senate race against Brenda Richards of Murphy. Zito is looking to leave the House and succeed Brackett.
  • In Idaho Falls, Kevin Cook handily won a Republican primary race for Mortimer’s Senate seat. Cook collected 69 percent of the vote in a big-money contest with Adam Frugoli.
  • Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, defeated Bonneville County Commissioner Dave Radford in another spendy primary. Christensen collected a 60 percent majority.
  • In another high-profile GOP race in Idaho Falls, challenger Marco Erickson unseated Rep. Bryan Zollinger. Erickson captured 51 percent of the vote.
  • Former Rep. Ron Nate, a Rexburg Republican, ousted Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, a first-term lawmaker who served on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Nate captured 52 percent of the vote.
  • Former legislator Karey Hanks of St. Anthony edged out Rep. Jerald Raymond, a Menan Republican who sits on House Education. Hanks won with a 51 percent majority. Confusion surrounded this closely contested race until midday Wednesday — with contradictory numbers on the secretary of state’s own election website. On one webpage, the elections office said Raymond had won. But county-by-county breakdowns, also posted on the secretary of state’s website, correctly showed Hanks winning with 51 percent support. The candidates were running in legislative District 35, which takes in Butte, Clark, Fremont and Jefferson counties. Nathan Brown of the Post Register first reported on the inconsistencies Wednesday morning.

School elections

The West Ada levy wasn’t the only ballot measure that failed Tuesday.

  • In Jerome, a $26 million bond issue received 62 percent support — but fell short of the two-thirds supermajority needed to pass. The Magic Valley district was hoping to build a new K-6 elementary school.
  • In East Idaho’s Ririe School District, voters resoundingly rejected a $7 million bond issue to replace an athletic facility. The measure received only 39 percent support.
  • In Idaho County, Mountain View district patrons voted down a one-year, $3.9 million supplemental levy. The measure received only 36 percent support.
  • Middleton’s two-year, $3 million supplemental levy also failed, receiving 48 percent support.
  • In Swan Valley, a two-year, $120,000 plant facilities levy received 52 percent support, falling shy of the 55 percent threshold needed to pass. It’s the fourth time in a year that voters in the Bonneville County district have rejected a plant facilities levy.

Other districts were able to pass ballot measures:

  • Mountain Home voters renewed a two-year, $5.4 million supplemental levy, with 56 percent approval.
  • Wendell’s two-year, $1.2 million supplemental levy was renewed, with 59 percent support.
  • Whitepine’s one-year, $880,000 supplemental levy passed, receiving 62 percent of the vote.
  • In Firth, voters renewed a two-year, $600,000 supplemental levy, with 65 percent support.
  • Salmon River’s one-year, $525,000 supplemental levy was renewed, with 66 percent support.
  • In Bliss, a 10-year, $500,000 plant facilities levy appeared headed to passage. Based on incomplete Gooding County results, 67 percent of voters supported the levy, which needs a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
  • Nezperce voters renewed a one-year, $445,000 supplemental levy with 69 percent support.
  • Cottonwood patrons renewed a one-year, $325,000 supplemental levy, with 62 percent support.
  • Rockland voters renewed a one-year, $210,000 supplemental levy, with 77 percent backing.

All told, 15 districts floated $78.1 million in ballot measures this election.

Several big-money bond issues were put on hold, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While West Ada pursued its supplemental levy, the district postponed a bond issue. The Idaho Falls and Emmett districts did likewise.

Congressional primaries

There were no close races at the top of the ticket, as Republicans and Democrats sorted out low-key contested congressional primaries.

The numbers:

  • U.S. Senate, Democrat. Former state Rep. Paulette Jordan of Plummer won big over James Vandermaas of Eagle. Jordan captured 86 percent of the vote. Jordan will face Republican incumbent Jim Risch, who was unopposed.
  • 1st Congressional District, Republican. First-term incumbent Russ Fulcher collected 80 percent of the vote over challenger Nicholas Jones of Boise.
  • 1st Congressional District, Democrat. Rudy Soto of Nampa pulled in 66 percent of the vote, defeating Staniela Nikolova of Moscow.
  • 2nd Congressional District, Republican. Eleven-term Rep. Mike Simpson won a 72 percent majority, defeating Kevin Rhoades of Boise. Democrat C. Aaron Swisher of Boise was unopposed.

A first-of-its-kind primary

The 2020 primary was historic. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Idaho closed its traditional polling places and moved all voting to absentee balloting.

The voter response was startling. About 429,000 Idahoans requested ballots — representing nearly 47 percent of the state’s registered voters.

And 328,499 Idahoans submitted their ballots, the secretary of state’s office reported Wednesday. This translates to 38.5 percent voter turnout — the state’s highest primary election turnout since 1980.

Turnout for Idaho primaries is historically low. Only 32 percent of registered voters showed up for the 2018 primary — when Republicans and Democrats nominated Brad Little and Jordan, respectively, in big-money gubernatorial primaries. In 2016, turnout was an anemic 32 percent.

Coming Thursday: A deeper dive into Tuesday’s results.

About 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 KIVI 6 On Your Side; "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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