Early voting for the May 17th state primary elections in Idaho is just weeks away for Canyon and Ada counties.
This is the next opportunity to vote and another looms in six months at the November general election.
I witnessed some of the record turnout for the Idaho Republican presidential primary and the Democrat presidential caucus last month, and I approach the May 17th elections with a mix of optimism and caution.
The optimism is based on the turnout and the passion I saw for the presidential candidates. Instead of just the older, reliable baby boomer generation coming out to vote, I saw multiple generations. As an example, I spoke with numerous 18-year-olds at the caucus who had pledged their all for Bernie Sanders, and young Republicans who worked for a number of the GOP candidates.
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My caution is based on the historical trend and turnout forecast for a May primary: dire to dismal. Just 38 percent of eligible voters in Idaho came out to vote in the November 2014 statewide elections — a new record low, the first time eligible voter participation had slipped below 40 percent for a statewide election in modern times.
Just more than 186,000 got out to cast ballots in the May 2012 primary elections — which is just over 16 percent of eligible voters (those 18 and over). There is no way to sugarcoat this. In the May 1980 primary election — another presidential year — we had nearly double that: 31 percent of eligible voters.
I prefer to believe we hit bottom in recent years and we can find the ladder back to greater participation. To that end, the Statesman will be doing everything it can to engage voters for the 2016 May primary and November general elections.
We are preparing our Online Voter Guide, which will highlight the local, judicial, legislative and federal candidates. We’ll be emailing questions to all of those running in the Treasure Valley and conducting endorsement interviews and producing videos for some of those races — posting all of that as it becomes available. At the top of our list for the primary: the non-partisan Idaho Supreme Court race, and key contested races at the local, state and federal races.
We will be doing background checks and asking the candidates why they are running. There will be customized questions for county commissioner, Idaho Supreme Court, legislative and congressional candidates. At the federal level, for example, we want to know the candidate’s positions on immigration, health care, public lands, the national debt and legalizing marijuana.
What questions do you have for primary candidates? At any and all levels? We hope to add them to our questions. In addition, we’d like to know what questions you have for those involved in the recall election underway for the West Ada School District Board of Trustees.
Please share your questions in an email to me — email@example.com — or in the online comments of this column.
For the past few weeks I have been soliciting guest opinions from people in the community who have served in government or held elective office and, like me, share the goal of engaging as many people as possible to vote. Among them are the members of the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board. I will be sharing their perspectives beginning Sunday, April 24.
We would also like to hear from those of you who feel disengaged. Many are so unhappy with the choices for president they may not vote. Others feel their vote no longer counts. If either of these feelings describe you, I’d like to know why you feel this way and what it would take to revive your interest and participation.
Watch for future installments in IDAHO VOTES 2016.