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Turnout looks to be big in Idaho's first mail-only primary

by Rebecca Boone
| May 19, 2020 12:04 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — County election workers across Idaho were bustling for the state primary on Tuesday, but the tasks were far from the usual routine.

Instead, election staffers were checking on last-minute requests for ballots and keeping track of returned ballots as the state shifted to its first-ever entirely mail-in primary amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We've gotten 14 trays of return ballots in, so they're coming in fast,” Ada County Clerk spokeswoman Chelsea Carattini said.

Ada County has had more than 116,000 ballots requested so far, with the deadline for voters to request ballots in person or online at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

“Just to put it in perspective, in 2016, the last time we had an election like this, we had 35,000 ballots cast total,” Carattini said. “We're on track, as far as turnout, to beat every election we've ever had in the state of Idaho. We're calling it historic.”

The response has been massive across the state. As of Friday, more than 334,000 ballots had been sent out or requested statewide according to numbers from the Idaho Secretary of State's office, and more than 131,000 of those had been returned. That’s dramatically higher than the 2016 primary, when nearly 25,000 Idaho citizens voted in advance.

Voters still have until June 2 to return their ballots to local county elections offices, and initial results won't be announced before then.

The majority of returned ballots so far this year — nearly 90,000 — are for the Republican primary. More than 22,000 returned ballots are for the Democratic party, and nearly 19,000 are independent. Only about 340 of the ballots returned so far are for other political parties.

Democratic voters are choosing between former 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Paulette Jordan of Plummer and former congressional candidate Jim Vandermaas, a retired law enforcement worker from Eagle, both vying for a chance to challenge GOP Sen. Jim Risch in November.

Risch is running unopposed in the GOP primary as he seeks his third six-year term representing one of the most conservative states in the nation.

Two other Republicans seeking to represent Idaho in Congress are facing primary challenges.

Rep. Mike Simpson, who has been in office since 1999, faces Kevin Rhoades, a Boise resident and small businessman. Rhoades is trying to position himself to the right of Simpson. But Simpson has a long history of bringing in federal dollars for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, one of the largest employers in Simpson’s district as well as the state.

First-term Rep. Russ Fulcher is being challenged by Boise resident Nicholas Jones, who owns several board game shops and burger eateries.

Democrats competing in the primary are Rudy Soto, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation, and Staniela Nikolova, a University of Idaho law student.

Besides those races, all 70 seats in the Idaho House and 35 in the Idaho Senate are on the ballot. However, many of the races are uncontested.


Associated Press writer Keith Ridler contributed.