Seeing election turnout exceed expectations is promising in both Ada, Canyon counties

Bill and Carolyn Reese vote at Lowell Scott Middle School in Boise in November 2015.
Bill and Carolyn Reese vote at Lowell Scott Middle School in Boise in November 2015. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Tuesday we elected mayors and city council members across the Treasure Valley. We passed levies that will help maintain the quality of education in our school districts and the quality and accessibility of our prized natural resources.

Somewhat hidden among all the results was a somewhat promising measure of our civic engagement: voter turnout that exceeded all expectations in Ada County.

There were estimates that only 20.4 percent of registered voters would get out and vote in Idaho’s most populated county. In fact, 27.1 percent did so.

In 2011 — the last time there were mayoral races on the Ada County ballot — Boise turnout was only 16 percent. The municipal elections in 2013 (with no mayoral races) netted 23.4 percent turnout in Boise.

Kudos to our neck of the woods. As much as we like that unexpected 27.1 percent countywide, it was even better within the borders of some cities: 30 percent in Boise, 31 percent in Eagle and 42 percent in Star. Though we would always like to see better, that’s pretty good for what is known as an “odd-year” election — unlike even years when there are gubernatorial or presidential races on the ballot.

Canyon County turnout Tuesday came out to not quite 17 percent this year, compared to 15.3 percent in 2011.

To what do we attribute the modest to amazing spikes in Treasure Valley participation?

We believe if you sort out the issues a bit this year, they are a lot about money and what we value. Faced with the alternatives of trying to get by with less money, staff and fewer class days, voters said yes to opening up their pocketbooks to educate our children. Even one of the casualties of the evening — the Meridian Library District Bond — got 59 percent of the vote, although that was shy of the two-thirds needed for passage.

Outside of some races where there was no opposition, the top vote-getter among all the candidates and issues was the $10 million Boise open space levy, which garnered 24,516 votes — three out of every four cast.

Voters were pretty clear: We like the path our big-city mayors are on. We cherish our schools, Foothills and river.

Though the election opened the door to deeper discussion on complicated issues — such as the homeless population and mitigating airport noise — we’re happy that a larger number of citizens is engaged and, we hope, poised to contribute ideas for the solutions.

Let’s build on this, Idaho. Between now and this date in 2016, a parade of candidates is headed our way. Idaho hosts a presidential primary in March. Then there are a statewide primary in May and a general election in November, which will be a presidential election, of course. There’s plenty of room to hop on the voter engagement train and ride it through all those stops in 2016.

Let’s transform what we value into votes.

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