BOISE — Idaho’s state Board of Canvassers met Wednesday and certified the results of the Nov. 3 election; in the final accounting, Idaho saw 81.2% of its 1.08 million registered voters cast ballots, more than half of them early.
“State and county election officials and workers are to be commended for their dedication, patience and flexibility in staging a successful general election under the challenging circumstances of a global pandemic,” Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said in a statement. “Idahoans cast a record number of ballots, a record number of which were early or absentee ballots, and produced the highest percentage voter turnout we have seen for any election this century.”
The state Board of Canvassers includes Denney, state Controller Brandon Woolf and state Treasurer Julie Ellsworth.
The state canvass, conducted after each county has canvassed its results, makes the results of the election official. All told, a record 878,527 Idahoans cast ballots. More than half — 56.2% — were cast early, either through absentee voting or in-person early voting.
Ada County’s final turnout was listed at 81.8% of registered voters; Canyon County’s was 78.5%.
The highest turnout counties, by percentage of registered voters, were
n Fremont, 88.1%
n Kootenai, 87.4%
n Butte, 86.3%
n Idaho, 85.1%.
The lowest were:
n Madison, 71%
n Jerome, 73.9%
n Clark, 74.9%
n Latah, 76.2%
n Elmore, 76.9%
Jason Hancock, deputy secretary of state and elections director, noted that the election set a record for the number of ballots cast and the number of registered voters, and also for percentage turnout since 2000. Since then, the previous high mark was 77.1% in 2008.
According to Idaho Secretary of State’s office records dating back to 1980, the previous record during that period was 80.46% of registered voters in 1992. Idaho’s turnout is much lower when calculated as the percentage of the voting-age population casting ballots. In 1992, that figure was 66.45%; in 2016, 59.07%. Hancock said the office hasn’t calculated that figure this year.
BOISE — With potentially two of the Ada County Highway District’s five commissioners leaving in January, Wednesday’s decision to extend Director Bruce Wong’s tenure by three years frustrated some commissioners and members of the public.
Wong’s tenure as ACHD’s director was extended on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Mary May, Sara Baker and Rebecca Arnold voting to renew Wong’s contract, and Commissioners Kent Goldthorpe and Jim Hansen voting against it.
Baker did not seek reelection in November, and Arnold lost by two votes in a race that will go to a recount.
Hansen and Goldthorpe said the new commission in January should determine the highway district’s direction.
“I don’t think it’s right this commission obligates future commissions … and I don’t understand why we’re doing it now,” Goldthorpe said.
May and Arnold defended the vote. May said keeping Wong was a way to keep the district stable during difficult times, while Arnold said the vote was simply following precedent.
“There’s nothing inappropriate about this,” Arnold said. “I have been impressed by Director Wong’s employment … and there is no reason not to follow the precedent in the past and have a contract in place.”
Because the vote was a personnel decision, the commission did not allow public comment.
There were members of the public who were frustrated with the commission’s decision, including state Representative-elect Colin Nash, D-Boise.
“This has the appearance and effect of imposing the will of outgoing commissioners on the newly elected, which I find dismissive of thousands of voters like myself who elected a new commission just two weeks ago,” Nash wrote in an email to the commission. “Even if you feel that a contract extension is both appropriate and in order, I would ask why can’t this wait until the new board is seated in January?”
Under the new contract, Wong’s annual salary will be $154,798.40. Baker made a motion to reduce his salary to that amount during Wednesday’s meeting, down from the $169,750 proposed in the original employment agreement.
If Wong is terminated without cause or if he resigns with reason, the commission will pay him a lump sum cash payment of a year’s salary and a lump sum equal to his health and retirement benefits for the next year.
Wong did not comment during the meeting.
Despite changes to policy and rules, Idaho health systems still face significant challenges in recruiting out-of-state nurses to fill gaps during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Health systems are struggling to staff hospitals. Staff members might be out sick, have to quarantine, or need to take care of kids or family members. Ordinarily, supplementing staff members with a traveling nurse might be a good option for hospitals.
There are dozens — if not hundreds — of staffing agencies that connect hospitals with prospective nurses, said Brian Whitlock, president and CEO of the Idaho Hospital Association. The demand for hospital staff across the country has made the process much more expensive than before.
“Prior to COVID-19, our hospitals would expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $60 per hour — plus some expenses — depending on the type of nurse,” Whitlock wrote. “We are hearing that because of the national shortage of nurses, some hospitals are paying as much as $120 to even $200 an hour for an ICU nurse.”
Idaho’s Board of Nursing has tried to help. Gov. Brad Little’s emergency declaration in March allowed the board to remove administrative and bureaucratic barriers for nurses who want to renew their license or come out of retirement. Early on, the board would provide traveling nurses with a free, temporary license to work in Idaho, said Russ Barron, the board’s executive director. Later on, the board decided to do away with the need for a temporary license altogether.
“We’re trying to do our best to not be an obstacle,” Barron said. “Let’s just get out of the way.”
If a nurse is licensed in their home state, and an employer is comfortable hiring them, Barron said the board would not impede the process. Every month, employers send a list of traveling nurses in their employ to the board. He estimated there are currently 20 traveling nurses working in Idaho.
Whitlock and Barron speculated pay might have to do with Idaho health systems’ ability to lure traveling nurses to their facilities. Some companies in other states pay more than Idaho, Barron pointed out.
Whitlock said nurses might also consider the prevalence of the new coronavirus when deciding whether to work in a facility.
“If safety outside of work is a factor, they may pass up opportunities in one state over another because of a high volume of COVID in the community,” he wrote.