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Early voting underway in Idaho for Nov. 2 local elections

An early voting dropbox outside Boise City Hall on May 5, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Mountain Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
An early voting dropbox outside Boise City Hall on May 5, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Mountain Sun)

Idahoans still have time to request absentee ballots from their county elections offices

Early voting begins in Ada County today and is underway across the state leading up to an under-the-radar Nov. 2 election that will nevertheless play a big role in shaping local communities and school districts.

Depending on where they live, Idaho voters will be able to decide city council races, school board contests, some mayoral races or even whether or not to renew a water system or sewer system bond.

But here’s the catch.

Many other Idahoans won’t have anything to vote for.

It all comes down to where they live, what seats are up for election and whether there are contested races or not.

“There are several things on the ballots, but it’s also worth noting that a portion of the state won’t have anything to vote for,” Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said in an interview Wednesday. “That’s one of the challenges, the nature of this election.”

New Idaho law splitting larger cities into districts for city council elections takes effect

Even within Boise, voters will get different ballots.

Thanks to a new election law (House Bill 413 from the 2020 legislative session) taking effect for the first time, Boise has been divided into six districts to elect city council members. All Boise voters used to be able to vote in all city council elections. Now only residents of a district with a seat up for election may vote, and they may only vote for candidates in their district.

Seats in three of those districts (District 1, District 2 and District 3) are up for election for a two-year term this year. Seats in the other three districts, covering about half the city, are not up for election this year, so voters living there won’t have a city council race to vote for.

Boise, Meridian and many other cities aren’t due for a mayoral election this year. But Idaho Falls, Nampa, Blackfoot, Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Spirit Lake, Garden City, and Caldwell are some of the Idaho cities where voters will vote in mayoral elections.

Many school districts will also hold school board elections Nov. 2.

The West Ada School District, Idaho’s largest school district based on enrollment, has two school board seats up for election. The Zone 1 race between Lori Frasure and Brent Hart in particular is attracting lots of attention, in part due to the amount of campaign money Frasure raised through the crowdfunding online site GoFundMe. It is not illegal for local candidates to use GoFundMe or other online fundraising sites, but candidates are forbidden from accepting anonymous contributions and are still required to comply with all campaign finance disclosure sunshine laws.

As of Thursday afternoon, Ada County officials have issued 4,845 absentee ballots. Elections officials anticipate this November’s election will not match the record turnout from the 2020 general election, where about 88% of registered voters cast ballots.

“We project countywide turnout to be about 23% for this election,” McGrane said. “The average person may not even realize Nov. 2 is an Election Day.”

What are the important deadlines and requirements to know before I vote?

Although voters’ ballots will differ based on where they live, Ada County residents can get prepared for voting by visiting the Ada County elections office website. Voters can enter their home address to double check the location of their polling place and view a sample ballot showing the races or questions that they will be able to vote on.

It’s also easy for Idaoans in any county to check whether they are registered, check the status of their absentee ballot and find out the location of their polling place by visiting the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office’s official voter site, Idahoans may also request an absentee ballot and view voter education videos at the Secretary of State’s Office site.

Although it is easy to request and return absentee ballots, in-person voting will still take place all across the state.

Ada County officials do not anticipate any issues or complications with in-person voting due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We feel very comfortable right now with the amount of volunteers we have in the precincts and the locations,” Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Trent Tripple said. “Those all seem to be settled right now.”

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.