Guest column: Online voter registration and Idaho races

If even 10 percent of eligible, unregistered voters showed up at the polls, they could swing a significant number of Idaho elections, writes Steve Taggart.

Earlier this month, Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney announced that Idahoans can, for the first time, register online to vote rather than doing so at the polls or by submitting a paper registration. Idaho is the 38th state to allow for online voter registration.

The 2016 Idaho Legislature passed HB 407, sponsored by State Rep. John McCrostie (D-Garden City). It requires the Idaho Secretary of State to implement an online registration system that allows voters to complete new registrations and update existing registrations online. New registrations are linked to Idaho driver licenses or identification cards. Before voting the first time, the voter has to provide photo identification at the polls.

Idaho voter turnout is relatively heavy in presidential years (75.87 percent of registered voters in 2016) and lighter in so-called off-year elections (56.1 percent in 2014). But, a huge number of Idaho adults aren’t registered at all. In 2016 the number of eligible but unregistered Idahoans exceeded 300,000 while in 2014 the equivalent number was over 450,000.

If even 10 percent of those numbers register and show up at the polls, they could swing a significant number of Idaho elections.

Virginia’s November 2017 elections show what impact online registrations can have. Virginia Democrats swept the statewide races and made massive inroads in lower level races. Voter turnout was at a 20-year high. And, roughly a third of all voter registrations were generated online. Digital advertising run by Democratic-leaning groups to persuade those under 30 to register and vote drove a big part of the surge.

In order to reach unregistered voters in Virginia, the method was targeted Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram ads. One Democratic consultant noted that opposition to President Trump fired up most Virginia Democrats but the most persuasive ads to those who were unregistered were positive in nature and featured former President Obama.

How could online registration be used in an Idaho race? Consider Idaho’s 2018 gubernatorial race alone. The trick for each of the campaigns is to figure how to appeal to an audience and convince those who are unregistered to do so online and then actually get those new voters to the polls.

Here are some possibilities …

Just-announced Democratic candidate State Rep. Paulette Jordan is the only candidate from Northern Idaho. She could target potential unregistered voters geographically or based upon her American Indian heritage on Facebook (which allows for ads based upon narrow targeting).

Republican candidate Tommy Ahlquist could push online registration for those in the medical community by emphasizing his background as a physician.

Democrat A.J. Balukoff might make inroads with sports fans given his ownership of Boise’s hockey team.

Lt. Gov. Brad Little could focus on those in agriculture given his deep ranching background.

And, each candidate will have a package of issues that might appeal to various subgroups. U.S. Rep. Labrador, for instance, might launch an effort targeted at gun enthusiasts.

Beyond the statewide campaigns, local candidates and issues campaigns should look closely at online registration. A candidate for the Idaho Legislature or a county office could use similar techniques, particular in the relatively low-turnout May primary.

I predict we will see several Idaho races won and lost based upon effective use of online registrations.


Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy (www.MaynesTaggart.com). He has an extensive background in politics and public policy. He can be reached at staggart101@gmail.com.


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