Tuesday’s election in the Treasure Valley saw strong turnout at the polls without too long of wait times that would typically accompany it. That’s because so many people voted early or by absentee ballot in the 2020 general election, whether to avoid coronavirus exposure or because it was easier to vote ahead of Election Day, although lines grew progressively longer into the evening.
“We definitely had some lines, but not too long, first thing in the morning,” Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane told the Idaho Press Tuesday afternoon. “We saw really impressive turnout in those first couple hours; really, we’ve had a steady flow all day long. Sometimes the lines have been deceiving because with people social distancing a line can look a lot longer than it normally would be.”
Ada County issued nearly 200,000 absentee ballots ahead of the November election, with more than 92% of those ballots returned as of Tuesday evening ahead of the 8 p.m. deadline. Canyon County issued over 42,000 absentee ballots ahead of Election Day, about 73% of those ballots were returned as of Tuesday afternoon.
In Ada County, a total of 262,806 ballots were cast for a registered voter turnout of 87.8%, on par with turnout in the 2016 presidential election.
Canyon County and statewide turnout numbers were not available at press time. Nationwide, more than 100 million early votes were cast by mail or in person — more than two-thirds of the total number of votes cast in 2016, according to a Pew Research Center report Tuesday.
Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck on Tuesday night said some of Idaho’s most populous counties surpassed 2016 voter participation rates. Nearly 650,000 Idahoans voted in the presidential race with 31 of Idaho’s 44 counties fully or partially reporting election results at midnight.
At the Ada County Elections Office, one of five places Ada residents could drop off absentee ballots, far more people appeared to be voting absentee than in-person. Poll workers stood by ensuring voters had signed their ballot envelopes before dropping them in a mailbox, which was emptied every hour.
Ethan Mainini, of Boise delivered his ballot to the Ada County Elections Office Tuesday afternoon. Mainini said he preferred to drop off his ballot due to concerns about the security of mail-in ballots.
A Lewiston native, Mainini said he grew up in a family of primarily Republicans, but he cast a ballot for former Vice President Joe Biden, favoring his views on environmental policy and his tendency to “listen to the right people,” such as experts, on complex issues.
“We just really need to preserve stuff for our children, our children’s children,” Mainini said of his stance on the environment.
Cambria Greenup of Boise brought her young son, Mayan Harper, to the Ada County Elections Office, where she dropped off her absentee ballot Tuesday. Greenup said it’s important for her son to experience an election.
“It’s our right and it’s important,” she said. “Democracy only works if people participate.”
Greenup said she would normally vote in person, but she preferred the absentee option to avoid risk of coronavirus exposure at the polls. The absentee ballot turned out to be beneficial for more than one reason: It allowed her to research candidates while voting.
“I got to research all the magistrates and everything and find out about the down-ballot (candidates) because I had it at home to look up everything,” Greenup said. “I actually cared about things because I could look into articles on how people ruled in different areas. I never thought I’d care about the magistrates because in the past I never (knew) their record.”
In Canyon County, Misael Coss, a Nampa resident, voted for the first time at the Hispanic Cultural Center. He cast his vote for Joe Biden. He said the push on social media for people to register and to show up to vote, was the major reason he cast his vote Tuesday morning.
Coss identifies as Latino and said Biden seemed like the better of the two options when it comes to addressing the needs of his “people,” he said. Though, Coss said he knows many other Latinos who would be voting for Donald Trump this election.
Rachel Wilson is one of those Trump voters. She cast her ballot late Tuesday afternoon at the O’Connor Field House in Caldwell.
Wilson said Trump’s pro-life position on abortion and his position on keeping the economy open during COVID-19 were her major reasons for voting for the president.
“I care about keeping taxes low, and I am not going to vote for a socialist,” Wilson said.
Turnout was high across the state.
“With the new technology you can see the turnout, and in my home county it’s 91.5% in Cassia,” House Speaker Scott Bedke said Tuesday night. “That’s unprecedented.”
“It tells me that politics has dominated the news cycles for so long, the early voting, the vote-by-mail numbers are huge,” he said. “I’ve talked to several people who said, ‘I voted as early as I could so I could be done, so I could stop listening.’”
Bedke said the high turnout is “good news for Republicans … because we are a Republican state.”
“Hopefully those numbers hold nationwide,” he told supporters on an Idaho GOP live stream. “And it looks like it’ll be a long night.”
Reporters Betsy Z. Russell and Thomas Plank contributed.
BOISE — Ryan Davidson, former chairman of the Ada County Republican Party, edged out Democrat Diana Lachiondo by about 6,100 votes Tuesday for a seat on the Ada County Commission.
Davidson received 128,121 votes, or 51.2%, compared to 121,961 votes, or 48.8%, for Lachiondo, a first-term incumbent in District 1.
All precincts were counted by about midnight, but the results are unofficial until canvassed.
In the Ada County Commission’s District 2, Republican Rod Beck received 133,799 votes, or 53.9%, to beat opponent Bill Rutherford, who received 114,462 votes, or 46.1%. Incumbent Patrick Malloy, who was appointed earlier this year, did not run.
The results flip the commission from majority Democrat to majority Republican; current Commissioner Kendra Kenyon, D-District 3, was not up for reelection this year.
More than 262,800 people cast ballots in Ada County in Tuesday’s election for an 87.8% turnout of registered voters. Nearly 70% of those ballots were cast by mail-in or early voting.
In the races for Ada County prosecutor and sheriff, Republican incumbents Jan Bennetts and Sheriff Stephen Bartlett defeated Democratic challengers Ron Twilegar and Zachery Wagner, respectively.
Neither Bartlett nor Bennetts could be reached for comment Tuesday night. Bennetts was running in only the third contested Ada County prosecutor general election in the past 40 years.
Both Bartlett and Bennetts won by considerable margins.
Canyon County races were all uncontested, only one race for county commissioner was for an open seat.
Keri Smith-Sigman, CEO for Destination Caldwell, did not face a challenger in Tuesday’s election, after winning her primary by 3 percentage points. She will be the new commissioner for District 2 on the Board of Canyon County Commissioners. The seat opened after Commissioner Tom Dale announced his retirement.
Smith-Sigman oversees the day-to-day operations of and events at Indian Creek Plaza in downtown Caldwell. She was endorsed by Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas in the primary.
Canyon County District 1 Commissioner Leslie Van Beek retained her seat. After winning her primary in May, Van Beek said she was looking forward to continuing her work as a commissioner, with a greater focus on “citizens’ voices.”
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue and county Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Taylor were also reelected. Taylor ran unopposed in the primary and general election.
Editor's note: Ryan Davidson is a former chair of the Ada County Republican Party. A previous version of this story mischaracterized his position.
BOISE — Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch held off a challenge from Democrat Paulette Jordan in his bid for a third six-year term in the U.S. Senate, as results were tallied on election night.
Risch ended with 537,456 total votes, or 62.58%, and Jordan with 285,824 votes, or 33.28%. Trailing were independent Natalie Fleming with 25,328 votes, or 2.95%, and Constitution Party candidate Ray Writz with 10,172 votes, or 1.18%.
“I’ve been doing this long enough that Idahoans know me and they know what to expect from me,” Risch told the Idaho Press on election night. “Whenever I cast a vote, there’s never a question about where it’s going to come from.”
Risch, 77, is a trial lawyer who was a longtime state senator, lieutenant governor, and briefly governor, before first being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2009. He currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He proudly touts his record as one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate, and has become a strong ally of President Trump.
Jordan, 40, is a former two-term state representative and Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council member and was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2018. She went after Risch as “the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the culture of Washington, D.C.,” and promised a more inclusive approach that she said is the legacy of her Native American ancestors.
“I will certainly be back again,” Jordan declared on election night.
Although Risch never responded to a call from Jordan for town-hall style debates around the state, both campaigned actively, hitting the television airwaves hard with campaign ads and traveling to appearances around Idaho.
The two differed on everything from trade policy to immigration to health care, with Risch continuing to call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Jordan advocating to expand it. They also clashed over the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Risch defending Trump and Jordan charging that inaction by leaders like Risch and Trump was responsible for thousands of American deaths.
“Regardless of how it turns out tonight, we have already accomplished the greater good,” Jordan said. “We have already made strides in our state to wake people up, so that they can see … that there are good people who are willing to fight for them.”
Risch, who has won all but one of the campaigns for office he’s waged over the past five decades, said, “I think the message is that they’d like to stay the course and keep Idaho the great place that it is.
Idaho Press reporter Olivia Heersink contributed to this story.