Idaho gets highest primary voter turnout in 16 years

Candidate signs dominate the walls May 15 at the Republican primary election night party at the Riverside Hotel in Boise.
Candidate signs dominate the walls May 15 at the Republican primary election night party at the Riverside Hotel in Boise. doswald@idahostatesman.com

More than 30 percent of Idaho's registered voters participated in this year's primary election, marking the highest turnout in 16 years in a state that generally sees lower turnout in the primaries.

According to recently certified election results, roughly 264,000 out of Idaho's 826,400 registered voters cast a ballot in the May 15 election. Nearly 18,000 of those registered to vote on the day of the election — the highest turnout since Idaho signed off on the practice.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney says the average turnout in Idaho's primary elections has typically hovered around 25 percent in recent years.

However, Denney says that high-profile races in both Republican and Democratic primaries helped contribute to the higher-than-normal election participation.

This year, there were open statewide seats for lieutenant governor and treasurer. The top race over governor was stiff with competition in both the Republican and Democratic primaries due to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter declining to run for a fourth term. There were also several key congressional and legislative contests.

"I always say what really drives voter turnout comes down to what and who is on the ballot," he said in a Friday phone interview, just several days after the Board of Canvassers certified the election results. "This year we had a lot of interesting races."

Kootenai County had the lowest voter turnout, with just 22 percent of the northern Idaho counties' registered voters making it to the polls. Kootenai County is the state's third most populous county. In comparison, similarly populated Ada and Canyon counties saw a 32 percent voter turnout.

Other areas that saw low voter turnout included Nez Perce, Franklin, Bannock and Madison counties. The highest voter turnout was reported in the state's more sparsely populated counties. For example, Clark County saw a 54 percent turnout, which meant 218 of the county's 400 registered voters cast a ballot that day.

Idaho's voter turnout, like most of the country, tends to be lower in the primary and rises in the November general election — particularly in presidential years. Yet turnout has steadily declined for years.