By Devon Downey
The election has already begun, and we’re getting a sneak peek at who just might win.
Both Democrats and Republicans have seen an increase in early and absentee votes compared with 2014.
Democrats have seen their turnout increase by large margins and with some remaining unaffiliated, the trend looks even better for Dems.
The numbers have increased by 107% to 4,390. 2,002 of those votes came in Ada County, nearly matching the statewide total from the last gubernatorial election.
This presumably would be good for Mr. Balukoff, who won Ada County in the Democratic primary four years ago by nearly 60%. Winning without Ada County would be almost impossible for Balukoff; 48% of his votes in the last primary came from Ada.
Representative Jordan should be happy with the turnout numbers as well. North Idaho has seen a large increase in Democratic ballots, with over 500 more ballots coming from Latah, Kootenai, and Bonner counties, Jordan’s home base.
Higher Democratic turnout may also benefit Jordan because of her campaign’s relationship with supporters of Senator Sanders (Jordan has been endorsed by Democracy for America, which supported Sanders over Secretary Clinton in 2016, and the Sanders affiliated group Our Revolution). Sanders overwhelmingly defeated Clinton in the Idaho caucuses, partly due to historic voter participation.
Unaffiliated, Constitution, and Libertarian ballots have also been coming in at a higher rate than expected. Statewide, there has been a 66% increase in unaffiliated and third party ballots. The increase for unaffiliated voters is also focused in Ada, Latah, Kootenai, and Boundary counties.
Those voters did not grab a Republican ballot since the Republican primary is closed to all but Republicans. They either voted for Democrats or unaffiliated with a ballot mostly made up of judges.
An increase in unaffiliated votes is then assumed to be a good thing for Democrats, because even if a third of unaffiliated voters choose Democratic ballots, there will be roughly another 1,000 votes for Democrats, and none of those votes will be Republican.
Republicans have also seen an increase in absentee and early voting, but not nearly as large of a percentage change. While there are over 2,500 more Republican ballots this year so far, that is only a 17% increase from 2014 compared with the 107% increase the Dems saw.
Idaho Republicans should feel secure knowing that they still drastically outnumber Democratic votes by a rate of 4 to 1.
One interesting thing to note for the Republican voters is that while they have seen more voters turn out, many Idaho counties have actually seen a decrease in the number of votes as compared to last election cycle. Of note is Canyon County, which is a Republican stronghold.
There are 174 fewer votes cast in the county compared with last cycle. This is a small number considering that there have been over 1,500 ballots cast so far, but considering the circumstances it is a little concerning.
Unlike last cycle, the race is for an open seat which typically boosts turnout.
Many rural counties in Idaho have seen a decrease in Republican turnout, which may hurt Lt. Gov. Little, who has been courting the agricultural community. The largest increase is in Ada County, where Little, Rep. Labrador, and Dr. Ahlquist all have large bases of support.
Labrador will be trying to run up his vote total in CD1, which he has represented for almost eight years. Many of the smaller counties in CD1 have lower turnout than during the last gubernatorial election, but an increase in Latah, Kootenai, and Bonner counties will make up for those losses.
Ahlquist and Little have been heavily campaigning in eastern Idaho, hoping to run up the scorecard in more favorable areas. Ahlquist has helped develop the Twin Falls area, which could be good for his campaign.
Bonneville, Blaine, and Twin Falls counties all have seen an increase of at least 100 votes. In a race that could come down to the wire, any connection with these areas can be an advantage.
Regardless of which party you may belong to, there is positive news. Democratic enthusiasm seems high, boosted by a rare contested statewide primary and historic trends that favor the minority party in Congress.
Republicans can be happy knowing that they are not losing much ground on Democrats, even with the population increases. In just under a week we will see how these races play out, but right now it appears that excitement about the gubernatorial race is helping Idahoans become more engaged than they were four years ago.