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BOISE — While non-presidential elections typically result in lower turnout, Ada County is projecting near-presidential election-level participation rates in the Nov. 6 election.

“I’ve been in this business for 21 years, conducting elections, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” Ada County Clerk Chris Rich said.

Rich said the county is projecting up to 73 percent voter participation, which would considerably trump the last gubernatorial election in 2014, which had 62 percent voter turnout, according to election records. The prior gubernatorial election had slightly less at 61 percent turnout.

In 2016, the last presidential election, Ada County saw 88 percent turnout among registered voters, according to Ada County voting records.

While Rich said the county is predicting a high turnout, it’s just an educated guess the county calculates based largely on participation in the primary election.

Rich said the number of mail-in ballots requested has already exceeded the presidential election from 2016.

“We just started early voting, it’s a little early to tell, but the numbers seem to be really good,” he said.

A stark difference between the May primary and the last gubernatorial election was Democratic voter turnout. Democratic voters saw a sharp uptick in the primary election — roughly a 300 percent increase — but Democratic numbers are lower in Idaho, so turnout percentages are more drastically affected, Rich said.

According to numbers provided by the county, the 2014 primary showed 10,067 Democratic voters, while in 2018, 29,844 Idahoans voted Democratic.

Republicans, meanwhile, showed a turnout of 30,875 in 2014 and 47,809 in 2018, roughly a 50 percent uptick.

As of Oct. 10, 31,264 new voters have registered to vote in Ada County. Of those, 47 percent are millennials.

“I also recall that there was still an increase with voters registering 50 and above,” Rich said.

“In the primary we had a number of hot races,” Rich said. The gubernatorial race may have a significant impact on voter turnout, he said.

However, the current political climate and the direction people feel the country is going also could have an impact on voter turnout, he said. “I think there’s forces outside of Idaho.”

To deal with the influx of expected voter participation, the county is planning on maxing out its election staff, as it is trying to reach around 1,200 poll workers to work its 150 polling places around the county.

Rich noted there are a number of big issues on this November’s ballot such as Medicaid expansion, the horse race betting machine initiative and the Ada County Highway District’s registration fee measure. These ballot items can influence voter participation, he said.

While high turnout is expected, Rich says he doesn’t expect this to be a sustained trend for elections to come, as voter turnout historically ebbs and flows.

If past voter turnout is any indicator, Rich said, “it’s a one-off.”

Xavier Ward covers Ada County for The Idaho Press. You can follow him on Twitter at @XavierAWard.

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