Finally, we have come to the last day of the wackiest Idaho primary election ever. 2020 will be legendary for Idaho county clerks from this day forth—envelope shortages, mismailed ballots, crashing online sites, unsigned envelopes, court orders and all.
The time for mailing ballots is past. Still, hundreds of ballots may be slipped into slots at election offices today. Clerks will be busy checking signatures, opening envelopes, working creases out of the sheets, and running stacks through the counting machine.
We might have results tonight—but some races may be so tight we’ll have to wait until every ballot is processed.
Many voters were disappointed to see few contested races on their ballots. Unless there was a local levy, Independents voted only for judges. Democrats had two contested races—House and Senate—at the top of their ticket, but only Boise Democrats saw contested legislative races.
There were Republican against Republican challenges in 28 of Idaho’s 35 districts.
Democrats filed for only one-third of the county offices up for election and less than one-half of the legislative seats. Essentially, nearly 100 Republicans will be elected today.
Chances are that most were supported by only 15% of those eligible to vote in November.
That might sound like business as usual, but Stephen Hartgen, a former five-term Republican legislator, noted that we are seeing a “sharp drop in Democratic Party competition statewide...some 20 percent fewer (legislative candidates) than in 2018.”
A quick check found that Hartgen was right.
In 2016 Democrats filed for 64 of 105 legislative seats; in 2018, 72; and this year, 56.
One might think that Idaho’s blue wave rippled and died, but it’s the vote in November that will count.
Democrats now hold 20 legislative seats, up from 16 two years ago.
Fifty-six candidates still give them lots of possibilities for gain.
And if voters have been paying attention, Democrats will gain.
For the Medicaid Expansion initiative to pass by 60% in 2018, one-third of Republican voters had to support it. Many Republican legislators didn’t care that the majority of their constituents supported expansion. They knew that the majority of those that voted for them hadn’t. They flaunted their opposition, passing a number of waivers to limit participation and complaining about paying 10% of the cost to insure thousands.
They also passed a bill—later vetoed by Gov. Brad Little—to require future initiative petitions to get more signatures in more counties in half the time.
In addition, they voted to prevent use of the millions in revenue from the new sales tax on online purchases for education or healthcare or infrastructure. They dedicated the money to tax relief—then failed to cut the sales tax on groceries or increase the homeowner’s exemption for property taxes.
Certainly, some voters will remember in November. Will it be enough to make a difference?
That may depend on why Democrats have fewer candidates.
If the number dropped because fewer activists were willing to invest time and effort, Democrats are in trouble.
But it’s a different story if fewer Democratic candidates stepped forward because activists saw initiative petitions as offering more significant returns. We’d need to replace 20 or more incumbents to get the legislature to consider bills that would raise the minimum wage, improve school funding, or legalize medical marijuana.
Successful bipartisan initiatives could bring those changes in little more than a year.
And might have—if the coronavirus shutdown hadn’t killed the petition drives.
Now, I doubt these activists will choose to sit on their hands during this election—and they could make a huge difference in spreading candidates’ messages.