Saturday, September 26, 2020

Tuesday offered interesting voting insights

| March 13, 2020 1:00 AM

Maybe they were protest votes, or ovals filled in for sentimentality’s sake.

Maybe, just maybe, though, the people casting those votes were asleep at the wheel.

In Idaho’s Democratic primary election Tuesday, 8,984 Kootenai County residents cast ballots for one of 17 presidential candidates. By then, however, 14 of those candidates had dropped out of the race. Because ballots had to be prepared well in advance, voters had to stay somewhat up to date to know who was still sticking around.

Joe Biden easily won Kootenai County with 54.13 percent of the vote (4,857), with Bernie Sanders trailing at 35.89 percent (3,220). The only other candidate still standing, though nobody can rationally explain why, was Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. She garnered 65 votes.

In all, 831 voters chose candidates who were no longer in the race. As a percentage of the Democratic turnout in Kootenai County, that’s just under 10 percent. Were they uninformed? Misinformed? Or was something else going on? And what does that bode for the May and November elections ahead?

Until voters are required to pass a test proving even a modicum of understanding about who or what they’re voting for — and such a test admittedly will never become part of the American electoral process — a hefty percentage will cast ill-informed ballots. Imagine the comprehension level when voters weigh in on two advisory vote questions that will appear on the May 19 primary ballot, thanks to the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners: One on urban renewal, and the other on a possible inmate re-entry center.

Both of these issues are far more complex than, say, spending 30 seconds on Google would reveal about who’s still in the Democratic race for president. Ill-informed votes aren’t a likelihood; they’re guaranteed.

But the immediate peril is the idea that nonbinding advisory votes could gain a foothold locally. Because elected officials who pose the questions have no responsibility whatsoever to act upon the voters’ expressed will, the entire process erodes public trust. Look around: Voter trust can’t take a whole lot more erosion.

As long as elected officials answer their phones, conduct public hearings, exchange email and generally mix with the people they represent, they will know how the electorate feels about important issues of the day. Advisory votes are a cop-out and a slippery slope that commissioners would be wise to step back from.