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Official voter turnout for Idaho’s May 17 primary election comes to 32.5%

Voters cast their ballots at Fairmont Junior High during the Idaho Primary on May 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Voters cast their ballots at Fairmont Junior High during the Idaho Primary on May 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Turnout in primary election is usually lower than for the general election

Official statewide voter turnout for last month’s primary election in Idaho was 32.5%, according to election data presented to the Idaho State Board of Canvassers last week, falling almost exactly in line with turnout statistics from four years earlier.

Last week, the Idaho State Board of Canvassers voted unanimously to certify Idaho’s primary election results, making the results official for the first time. Previously reported election results, including the live returns released after the polls closed May 17, were unofficial results.

Voter turnout in primary elections is usually lower than in general elections, said Jaclyn Kettler, associate professor of political science at Boise State University. For instance, voter turnout for the 2018 November general election, which was the most recent gubernatorial election, was 66.75%. But for the primary election that same year, turnout was 32.6%.

When it comes to primaries, the 2018 primary turnout rate of 32.6% is almost exactly the same as the 2022 primary election turnout rate of 32.5% of registered voters.

“Although there are unaffiliated races like judicial races to vote on, these primary elections really are to select the party’s nominees,” Kettler said. “It may be just that there is not as much known about these primary races or candidates, voters may just be less interested in these primary races or they may not view themselves as belonging to a party.”

In Idaho, voters are required to be affiliated with the Republican Party to vote in the Republican primary election. The Democratic primary was open to all Idaho voters regardless of party affiliation. But as Kettler pointed out, there were no contested Democratic legislative primary races at all this year, which may have affected interest and turnout.

Looking into primary election data, Kettler said the Republican gubernatorial primary election that featured incumbent Gov. Brad Little and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin did seem to generate a lot of interest among voters. In the GOP gubernatorial primary election, 281,834 people voted. But in the GOP superintendent of public instruction primary election that was on the same ballot, only 264,952 people voted. That means thousands of people who voted in the Republican primary election left their ballots blank in the superintendent’s race.

“That suggests the governor’s race did bring people out, but interest may have dropped off after that race,” Kettler said.

That’s not necessarily surprising either, given the rivalry, news coverage and name recognition in the governor’s race at the top of the ticket.

Little won the seven-candidate Republican gubernatorial primary election after winning 52.8% of the vote. McGeachin finished second with 32.2%.

Little and the rest of the 2022 primary election winners advance to the Nov. 8 general election, which will also feature independent and third party candidates.

Voter turnout varied across Idaho, but was lower in counties with a university

For this year’s Idaho primary election, turnout varied from county to county.

The two counties with the highest percentage of voter turnout were Camas County (54.7%) and Clark County (53.8%). The two counties with the lowest percentage of turnout were Nez Perce (25.9%) and Bannock (26.9%).

Counties with universities or colleges had voter turnout percentages that were lower than the statewide average, including Nez Perce County, home to Lewis-Clark State College (25.9%); Bannock County, home to Idaho State University (26.9%); Madison County, home of Brigham Young University-Idaho (27.5%); Canyon County, home to College of Idaho (27.5%); Latah County, home to University of Idaho (28.3%) and Ada County, home to Boise State University (31.5%).

Kettler said there are several factors in the mix with voting in college towns. The place that students recognize as their primary residence may vary. Out-of-state students may vote absentee in the state that they came from. And with the timing of the May 17 primary election, many colleges and universities were already on summer break or in the middle of exams and the election could have flown under the radar.

Nearly one-fourth of voters voted early or by absentee ballot

In addition to voter turnout data, the Idaho Secretary of State’s office also released absentee ballot and early voting data to the Idaho Capital Sun. Statewide, almost one fourth of voters, or 24.5% of all 2022 primary election voters, voted early or by absentee ballot, according to data released to the Idaho State Board of Canvassers. That total includes people who voted by absentee ballot by mail and during in-person early voting.

It is difficult to compare early voting and absentee voting primary statistics over the last few years because the 2020 primary election was done by mail and absentee ballots because of COVID-19 precautions.

For the 2022 primary election, the two counties with the highest percentage of absentee, mail or early voting voters were Blaine County (34.2%) and Valley County (33.6%). The two counties with the lowest percentage of mail, absentee and early voting voters were Franklin County (6%) and Butte County (6.9%).

2022 primary election voter turnout, by county

Ada: 31.5%

Adams: 37.8%

Bannock: 26.9%

Bear Lake: 41.4%

Benewah: 33.4%

Bingham: 34.8%

Blaine: 31.7%

Boise: 32.3%

Bonner: 43.8%

Bonneville: 32.3%

Boundary: 47%

Butte: 39.4%

Camas: 54.7%

Canyon: 27.5%

Caribou: 39.5%

Cassia: 43.4%

Clark: 53.8%

Clearwater: 38.5%

Custer: 45%

Elmore: 35.4%

Franklin: 35.4%

Fremont: 39.7%

Gem: 39.5%

Gooding: 35.7%

Idaho: 45.5%

Jefferson: 38.2%

Jerome: 29.9%

Kootenai: 34.6%

Latah: 28.3%

Lemhi: 43.1%

Lewis: 35.3%

Lincoln: 32.3%

Madison: 27.5%

Minidoka: 37.2%

Nez Perce: 25.9%

Oneida: 40.7%

Owyhee: 32.1%

Payette: 32.3%

Power: 29.1%

Shoshone: 31.8%

Teton: 29.5%

Twin Falls: 28.5%

Valley: 33.8%

Washington: 44.1%

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.