Idaho is politically inconsequential to most people in the United States. Its population is so small and its political leaning is so overwhelmingly red that even Presidential hopefuls generally don't bother stopping by during their election years. Republicans skip a visit to Idaho because they know they have the state all sewn up, and Democrats skip it because, well, it's largely a lost cause to them.
This brings us to yesterday's election and I'll use one race as the focal point of this posting:
Ron Nate vs. Doug Hancey (incumbent) for the State House of Representatives seat for Idaho District 34A.
Doug Hancey is a member of the GOP and a business man who knows what it takes to run a business, work with employees, etc., and who has a proven track record of working with house members on both sides of the aisle to get things done in the Idaho State Legislature.
Ron Nate is a also GOP, but with a stronger Tea Party flavor, who sells himself primarily as "the more conservative choice." He is a professor of economics, and though he has been active in local political organizations he had never been elected to office.
During yesterday's primary election, as of midnight last night, Ron Nate earned 2710 votes to 2190 for Doug Hancey. A story in today's Idaho Falls Post Register newspaper Doug Hancey said that he was disappointed, but that he was most likely hurt by low voter turn out. Local reports also commented that voter turnout was low, and that they are at a loss about why this was so.
Why a low voter turnout? This is no mystery. A few years ago the Idaho state GOP voted to close all GOP primary elections. Only registered GOP members are therefore allowed to vote in GOP primary races in Idaho.
I started thinking about this and I did some research. District 34 includes Madison County and the northern rural part of Bonneville County, which does not include the cities of Idaho Falls or Ammon. Rexburg is therefore the largest population center in this district.
According to the web site CensusViewer.com (http://censusviewer.com/city/ID/Rexburg), in 2010 Rexburg had a population of 25,484 with 20,289 over the age of 18 and therefore at least potentially eligible to vote. Again, according to CensusViewer.com this is the breakdown of registered GOP and Dem voters in Rexburg in 2010:
- Republican 4, 944
- Democrat 208
If we look at the voter turnout for the Nate v. Hancey GOP contest, we see 2,710 to 2,190 votes for a total of 4900 votes cast. Is this a low turnout? It appears to be when you compare this number to the total number of potentially eligible voters in the district (>20,000 of them), but it is probably an extremely high voter turnout when you consider the number of people would were ALLOWED to vote in yesterday's GOP primaries. From the data above we know that about 1/4 of eligible voters in Rexburg are registered Republicans. If we accept the assumption that about the same proportion of voters in the entire district are similarly registered we would probably see 6,000 to 7,500 registered GOP voters. When we compare the number of votes cast in the Nate v. Hancey race to this number, the registered voter turnout is between 65% and 81%. This is an incredibly high voter turnout.
What does this mean? This means that the state GOP maneuvering to close its elections disenfranchises all but the faithful few in the state, and thus guarantees that at least in my part of the state that the few are deciding who the leaders will be for the many.
I wanted to vote, but it was illegal in Idaho for me to do so in the election that mattered to me - the GOP primary. I am not a registered affiliate with any political party. I'll say that again...it was illegal for me to vote.
As a political independent, formerly associated with the GOP, I am now disenfranchised and prohibited from voting in elections for my state and local political leadership. Is this still America? It doesn't feel like it. At least it doesn't when less than 25% of the eligible voters are allowed to decide who sits in city, county, and state elected offices.