Custer County voters are mailing and delivering their completed ballots to the county elections office in a near-steady stream, Custer County Clerk Lura Baker said Friday.
Last week was the deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot for the primary election, which was switched to mail-only because of concerns about gathering people together at polling places at the May 19 election. Ballots must be returned to county clerks by 8 p.m. June 2 in order to be counted in this election. Idaho’s governor extended the return date because the decision to vote by mail was made late in the game.
A total of 1,877 Custer County voters requested and received their absentee ballots by the May 19 deadline, Baker said. That’s 64.8 percent of the 2,898 registered voters in the county.
“We’re doing amazing,” Baker said. “You can see such an increase here (in turnout) compared to voting at the polls.”
So far, 99 percent of voters in the Clayton precinct have already returned their ballots, she said, and 98 percent of the Sunol and Battleground voters have cast their ballots.
Return rates for Challis and both Round Valley precincts are in the 60 percent range, she said. Stanley is just under 50 percent while Mackay and Leslie have rebounded to more than 50 percent. A few weeks ago, ballot requests from the Mackay and Leslie precincts were pretty low, Baker had reported, and she was concerned about voters not requesting their ballots by the May 19 deadline. But, things picked up in those two precincts, she said.
Four years ago, in the spring primary election, voter turnout in Custer County was 47 percent, according to the clerk’s office records. The highest turnout that year was in the two mail-in precincts — Battleground and Sunol — 65 and 66 percent. Clayton wasn’t a mail-in precinct then, and turnout there was 41 percent. Challis, Round Valley 1 and 2 were both at 40 percent and Mackay and Leslie turnout was 33 and 38 percent. Stanley was particularly low four years ago, less than 25 percent.
“I honestly figured if we were ever given this chance (to vote by mail) we’d get a good response,” Baker said. “But we were never before given the chance.” Preliminary response shows better turnout this year in Custer County than four years ago, across the board.
The Idaho Secretary of State’s Office reports that based on the number of ballots requested statewide for this election, Idaho is on track to have the largest voter turnout of any non-gubernatorial primary election in history.
About 415,000 Idahoans requested mail-in ballots, which is almost 46 percent of the 907,342 registered voters in the state, Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said in a news release. Statewide voter turnout in the 2016 primary election was 23 percent. Of course, not all ballots have been cast in this election, so turnout is not yet known.
“The numbers truly speak for themselves,” Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said. “Voting is a right Idahoans hold dear and they were not going to let the coronavirus get in their way of participating.”
County clerks across Idaho asked the state Legislature to change the state to a vote-by-mail format about eight years ago, Baker said. But no legislator would agree to introduce such legislation. She hasn’t heard chatter around the state about anyone thinking of proposing that again when the Legislature convenes in January.
County clerks are already being allowed to begin counting ballots, Baker said, and some of the more populated counties have begun the process. She plans to start counting ballots in Custer County on May 27. But, ballots can be returned up until 8 p.m. June 2, so Baker doesn’t expect to have a final count until around 9 p.m. that Tuesday.