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An election night agenda

idaho RANDY

The big national story Tuesday night will have to do with control of the U.S. Senate, which as this is written is a very close call.

In Idaho, control of the legislature will not be much of a point of suspense. But there’ll be plenty to watch elsewhere.

Start with the voter turnout; information about that should be released early. High turnout tends to mark enthusiasm for something; low turn out, a turning off. Very early indicators from early-voting states around the country have been mixed (North Carolina running high, Nevada running low). The turnout level may give some meaning to the wins and losses in its wake. What are voters thinking?

Turnout could also affect how some of the Idaho races settle, too.

Attention always goes first to the top of the ballot, but in most Idaho races there’s not a lot of basis – at least in considering polling and other normal indicators – for expecting close contests. If the early results for congressional and governor races do show close numbers across a range of counties, expect a long night, but be wary of betting on that happening. Do the Republicans running for Congress reach landslides (which I define as 60 percent of the vote or better), as they typically have in the past, or does a generic dissatisfaction hit, making the races closer?

The governor’s race will get central attention, of course, after a number of tea-leaf readers have begun to conclude it’s close after all. How close?

The real interest more likely ought to go to places on the Idaho ballot that generally get little attention, those statewide offices like secretary of state, state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction, all of which have seen lively campaigns this year.

There’s not been a lot of polling on these races, either (when it’s really infrequent you get no trend lines or basis for comparison), and it’s hard to know how much the campaign messages have been sinking in. Many Idaho voters probably couldn’t tell you very accurately what the state secretary, treasurer and superintendent each do, and therefore how to assess the importance of the campaign arguments. Did some of those messages actually connect? Are voters willing to look beyond party labels, which is what many typically seem to use as a guide to voting?

That in fact may be another thing to watch for: Any sign of split-ticket voting, which has been in decline in Idaho (as in many other places) for a couple of generations now.

Do more than two or three legislative seats change party control? A scan of the field suggests no more than half-dozen realistically are in the field to do so; if the switches much exceed two or three, take that as a real indicator.

Finally – and for a lot of people this gets down into the weeds, but it’s worth the watch – see what happens in the county races. When Idaho began its definitive move into the Republican column a couple of decades ago, one of the places where the change seemed to lock in was in the courthouse races. How are the courthouses split after this election?

That could be what you’d call a long-term indicator.

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