What we’re watching today

Idaho Reports will live-stream Idaho election coverage tonight starting at 8 pm MST at this link. Here’s a preview of what co-host Melissa Davlin and producer Seth Ogilvie will be looking for as results roll in:


MELISSA: I’m feeling burned out on national politics, so I’m happy to nerd out on some Idaho issues today.

Other than the obvious legislative races to watch — Districts 1, 5, 6, 15, 24, 26 and 29 — I’m keeping an eye on how enthusiasm and disgust for Trump will affect down-ticket races throughout Idaho.

In the 2012 general election, nine counties saw a voter turnout of 78 percent or higher:

County Turnout
Franklin 82.2%
Jefferson 81.91%
Bear Lake 81.90%
Power 79.95%
Bingham 79.67%
Bonneville 79.36%
Lemhi 78.9%
Fremont 78.48%
Oneida 78.4%

With the exception of Bonneville County, which is the fourth most-populous in Idaho, these are all rural counties. All are in Congressional District 2, and, except for Lemhi, all are in southeast Idaho.

SETH: Outside of Bonneville, some of the numbers can be explained by small sample size. Take the precincts in Ada County, for example. They have decent turnout when you look to the district as a whole, but get down to the precinct level where you’re dealing with a few thousand voters like you’d see in some of these more rural counties and the numbers look similar.

Pr. 1403 82.5%
Pr. 1503 79.1%
Pr. 1601 81.2%
Pr. 1902 82.8%
Pr. 2001 84.1%
Pr. 2101 80.0%
Pr. 2207 78.4%

I don’t think this points to any clear delineation between urban and rural voters or tells us very much about the habits of these communities. The same numbers can be found fairly easily when viewing other small groups of voters in Idaho. I think we can all stand up and applaud the registered voters in these areas for getting out for presidential elections and hopefully the trend continues.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       MELISSA: Sure, if you go precinct-by-precinct, you’ll find examples in several counties throughout the state, both large and small, of high voter turnout. The precincts with the highest turnout in Idaho in 2012 (all 90 percent or higher) all had relatively few registered voters — most fewer than 100.

Precinct Ballots cast Percentage
Lewis Co Precinct 008: Slickpoo 9 ballots of 9 registered voters 100%
Blaine County 016 Yale 10 ballots of 10 registered voters 100%
Lemhi County, Mineral Hill 46 ballots of 48 registered voters 95.83%
Bear Lake#10 Geneva/Pegram 85 ballots of 88 registered voters 95.59%
Cassia 123 Sublett 40 ballots of 42 registered voters 95.24%
Idaho Co 027 Slate Creek 2 35 ballots out of 37 registered voters 94.59%
Bear Lake #6 Bern 85 ballots of 92 registered voters 92.39%
Shoshone Co Precinct 11: Calder 94 ballots of 102 registered voters 92.16%

But in eastern Idaho, you find consistent high turnout both on the precinct and county levels — more consistent than other parts of the state. And I’m less interested in the rural/urban divide than the demographics. Southeast Idaho, of course, has a high concentration of LDS residents.

With the distaste for Trump among Mormon voters (which has been heavily covered in Utah, though not as much Idaho) I’m curious whether turnout will be as high. I’m guessing it will be, but I won’t be surprised if some voters skip the presidential race. I also won’t be surprised if McMullin beats Trump in some of those precincts.

SETH: The Utah-Idaho similarities are interesting but there is also northern Nevada (as we talked about in the primary). Some interesting things are happening with their early voting. Six percent more Democrats have already turned out to vote in Nevada. That’s a good showing in any year for Nevada Dems, especially considering most of that early voting came from the northern and rural parts of the state — not Las Vegas, where you would expect a high turn-out from the Hispanic population and more traditional Democratic voters. That 6% lead doesn’t take into consideration how those people voted, but it suggests that Republicans aren’t as excited in the early voting results.

Then there is the LDS factor. As you pointed out, many of those Republicans might see Trump as a bridge too far and vote for one of the third party candidates, leaving the early voting numbers in northern Nevada looking pretty troubling for the Republican nominee. We’ve seen that play out in recent polls in Idaho’s 2nd congressional district with Hillary Clinton actually holding a small advantage. And in Utah, McMullin could be playing spoiler to both Clinton and Trump.

To get all the way back around to the point you were making, the LDS vote this year could be different from the traditional Republican block that it normally is, primarily because they don’t have a traditional Republican candidate to vote for at the top of the ballot.

MELISSA: And to be clear, I’m not suggesting that turnout will be significantly down in these Idaho LDS communities. I just wonder how many folks are going to skip that presidential race. I’m also wondering if, in some of those conservative southeast precincts, Trump, McMullin and Johnson will put Clinton into third or even fourth place.

And there are plenty of other things to vote on, including HJR5, the constitutional amendment. It narrowly lost the last time it was on the ballot — in 2014’s general election, as HJR2. Voters rejected the amendment, with just 49.4% voting yes.

I looked at the county-by-county breakdown, and in a few cases, the difference was less than 10 votes. (Five votes in Clark and Lemhi counties, six in Jerome, and just one in Payette.)

In 2014, though, there were so many other statewide general election races (including every single state constitutional officer) that HJR2 got shorted in coverage and financial support. There were no committees, no ads, no fundraising — just a short, confusing description in the Secretary of State voter guide.

This year, though, the Idaho Republican Party and several lawmakers have turned their attention to getting HJR5 passed. GOP lawmakers are putting huge amounts of money into Citizens for HJR5, including $5,000 from House Speaker Scott Bedke and $5,000 from former House Speaker Congressman Mike Simpson. Big campaign spenders like Micron, Idaho Dairymen’s Association, and the Idaho Forest Group have each ponied up the same amount of cash. The latest campaign report has Citizens for HJR5 at $77,050. (And if you read Betsy Russell’s story on Citizens for HJR5, you know the “citizens” in the committee are all lobbyists, lawmakers, GOP candidates or lawmakers’ family members.)

Unified Republican support doesn’t mean HJR5 will pass, as we saw in 2012 with Props 1 2 3. Unlike Props 1 2 3, though, there is no organized Vote No effort from those who oppose HJR5. We’ve seen high-profile dissents from Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, but I’m not sure that’s enough to tank the effort.

SETH: HJR5 is a weird complex initiative that either undermines the separations of power created by the Idaho constitution, or does nothing but codify an already existing rule. It all depends on how you read it and that’s exactly what people across Idaho have been doing.

There are not many races on the ballot, and outside of some local bonding issues, not a whole lot of prose to sift through. People will have the chance to sit down with the text and figure out how they read the law, and that’s a stark contrast to 2 years ago when it was on a jam-packed ballot with numerous constitutional offers.

We’ve seen several mailers go out in support of the initiative and a few editorials against it, but the only thing guiding a decision in the actual ballot box will be the text. Two years ago, it was close but needing only a simple majority meant even if the votes were totally random, it was going to be close. A coin flip would have gotten the bill passed half of the time.

Anecdotally, Idahoans have a propensity to vote against things they don’t understand, or simply leave the decision blank, as about 38,000 did two years ago on a similar measure. I’ve received several questions from friends, family and viewers on the issue, and more than a super majority said they would vote no either because of confusion or dislike of the idea. Having read the text several times myself, I get the confusion. I can read it several different ways, and if my very anecdotal metric holds true that doesn’t bode well for HJR5.

MELISSA: Is “anecdotal metric” a thing? I don’t think it is. You’re the kind of person Nate Silver hates. (I’ll also point out that the majority of other confusing measures, like endowment reform and an amendment on municipal electric system debts, have passed in recent years. If anything, 2014’s HJR2 failure was an anomaly.) 

SETH: I think the two examples you gave show that an electorate can be informed on complicated issues and we should never underestimate the Idaho populace when they are able to get the info they need. The other initiatives referenced in the article were all fairly straightforward measures that were easy to understand.

MELISSA: The other unknown: The Idaho Supreme Court race. I have no clue how this will turn out. Both candidates have worked hard, and are high-profile in their respective circles, but relatively unknown to the general Idaho public.

SETH: The Supreme Court races in Idaho are by far the hardest for those of us in the media to handicap and even interpret after the results are in. The candidates aren’t allowed to comment on almost everything the voters would like to know when they are casting their ballots. There is no public polling outside of the bar survey to understand why people feel the way they do about the respective candidates, and for the most part, the people in the races are usually not large public figures that the majority of Idahoans have already been introduced to.

These two candidates have both run solid campaigns, but the race was bound to take a backseat to the presidential election — and, to a lesser degree, the individual legislative races in which voters in those districts have a much better grasp on the candidates.

The popular wisdom in the pundit class is this is a referendum on Sen. Curt McKenzie, but outside of Boise and his district, McKenzie is not exactly a household name. With Robyn Brody’s deep ties to the trial lawyers, she has arguably just as good a network around the state.

She has out-raised McKenzie significantly and has spent her way into a push in the name recognition portion of the race. That leaves us in HJR5 territory, except there is no description on the ballot.

When I attempt to make sense of this race late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, I will do so with the presupposition that a small portion cast a ballot for or against the substance of the respective candidacies and a large portion voted for the person their aunt or uncle advised or the name they thought sounded better.

It’s a cynical take, but when people are forced to vote for candidates who aren’t allowed to explain what they will do in the office they are running for, we end up here. As we move forward, we should listen to what Jim Weatherby told the Idaho Statesman’s Bill Dentzer: Appointment based on a commission’s recommendation “would be a far better method, removing the choice from obvious partisan political considerations and special interest group pressure.”

MELISSA: I do think it’s interesting that Idaho voters choose Supreme Court judges. That came up as the final question in our Supreme Court debate. (If you missed it, you can watch here or listen here.)

We’ll delve into all of this and more during our live election coverage from the Idaho GOP election night party. We’ll also cut in with interviews from the Idaho Dem’s election night party. We’ll analyze legislative, statewide and congressional races, and try to avoid talking about toxic presidential politics as much as humanly possible.



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