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Posts tagged as “voting”

To write them in

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Until this month,when she was briefly a national figure for her party-line-breaking vote on a Supreme Court nomination, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski merited political attention for an entirely different kind of reason.

She is one of the few people in recent generations at least to win high office in this country through a write-in campaign. She did that in 2010, as a first-term senator who lost her party’s primary but came back to win the general election as a write-in. (In 2016 the Republican Party did renominate her for a third term, which she won.)

That was so remarkable because it’s hardly ever accomplished, for high office or lower. (Strom Thurmond in 1954 was the only other occasion of such a win for a Senate seat.) Ordinarily, when you hear about contenders trying to win through write-in, without the advantage of a visible spot on the ballot, you’re best off to, let’s say, minimize their chances.

Many non-incumbent candidates will tell you how hard it can be to become reasonably well known around the electorate even with a ballot spot to help out. Invisibility there makes it a lot harder.

Still, that’s not to say they have no chance at all. And at least one legislative contest in Idaho might put that to the test.

In all, six candidates have filed in Idaho to run as write-ins. Two are for major offices: Michael Rath of Saint Maries for the first district U.S. representative and Lisa Marie of Boise for governor. There’s a state House candidate in District 23 (a district based in Elmore County), Tony Ullrich from Hammett.

Two of the write-ins are better known, and in fact were on the ballot only a few months ago. Peter Rickards of Twin Falls ran this year for the Democratic nomination for the second district U.S. House seat; now he’s running for state Senate against an otherwise unopposed Republican incumbent. Rickards’ odds are not good, but his experience of many years as a candidate may add some interest to the race.

The most interesting situation is in District 32, in the rural southeast corner of the state. In May long-time Representative Tom Loertscher, a Republican, lost his party’s nomination in an upset to Chad Christensen of Idaho Falls. Loertscher has been a mainstay of legislative politics in that area since his first election to the House in 1986 (and he was a Bonneville County commissioner before that). Now he’s trying to do exactly what Lisa Murkowski did in 2010, return as a write-in by defeating his own party’s nominee.

In some ways Loertscher fits the profile of the kind of candidate who might be able to pull it off. He’s deeply experienced and connected in the area, is familiar to a lot of people there and for that reason he might be more advantaged running in a general election than in a primary.

Running as a write-in is nonetheless tough, and Loertscher has an added burden in this case: A sixth write-in contender also has filed in that same district. That candidate, Ralph Mossman of Driggs, seems to be drawing more support from the Democratic side (his web site lists support from the Idaho Education Association and former Democratic Representative Richard Stallings, for example). But he, like Loertscher, is listed as an independent write-in, so the fallout is far from clear.

Hard campaigning work will be central here. The numbers generated on election day should be fascinating.

A personal disclosure is needed here. My wife is running for city council in our small town, one of three candidates for three open seats. There’s no declared opposition, not even on the write-in level, as yet. That means her odds of winning next month are pretty good.

But she’s campaigning anyway. After all, you can never take those write-ins for granted ...
 

Where the numbers went

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Not so many weeks ago, more than a few Idaho Democrats and democratic sympathizers, observing the developing contested primary for governor within their party, were heard to wonder: How many Democrats will be left to vote in it?

The logic went like this: The race for governor likely would be settled in the Republican primary, and among Democrats there was a clear preference among the major GOP candidates: Lieutenant Governor Brad Little was considered much the most acceptable, and Representative Raul Labrador the worst option. (The third major candidate, Tommy Ahlquist, got less visceral reactions.) So quite a few Idaho Democrats, at least anecdotally, said they would cross over and vote for Little. Presumably that would leave, among other things, a smaller Democratic contingent to decide their own party’s race between second-time candidate A.J. Balukoff and former legislator Paulette Jordan.

Not a few Republicans also thought the scenario might play out that way.

So how did it work out?

The shift of Democratic voters across the aisle to the Republican side is hard to measure. We can’t know for sure how many there were. The number of voters (that is, ballots cast) in the Republican contest for governor was up compared to 2014 by about 25 percent; if you factor in population growth and the greater interest in a race with three major candidates, that’s not a tremendous difference. Were there enough Democratic crossovers to give Little his 9,000-or-so vote win over Labrador? Best guess is that those voters didn’t account for all of it, maybe only half or less. The presence of Ahlquist in the race may have been a larger factor.

Bear in mind that Little received 72,518 votes, which is less than his close ally and current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter received in 2014 (79,779 votes). His vote could be accounted for if just most of the Otter voters stuck with him (as they most logically would have), allowing for some falloff.

One reason for thinking so is in looking at the vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Only about a third as many people voted on the Democratic side as on the Republican, but four years ago the difference was six to one, not three to one. Turnout in the Democratic primary increased by about 150 percent, a massive increase especially when bearing in mind the much higher-visibility Republican campaign.

Across the board, Democratic primary votes increased far more from 2014 than did the Republican (though theirs grew too). Scan down through the other major office races and though the state legislative primaries, and the same holds true. Of course, most people once stuck with one or the other party’s ballot will continue to vote for a number of offices

But the Democratic ballot increase really is remarkable. The number of votes cast in the Democratic primary for governor is the largest ever cast in that party for that office. What was about 25,000 Democratic primary voters (for governor) in 2014 grew by about 40,000 this year.

Was it a coincidence that the recently-completed petitions for the Medicaid initiative activated similar numbers of voters? Might that have helped generate some of the participation?

On Tuesday, voters in Georgia held their primary election, and Democrats there chose (in a hot contest) a nominee for governor who among other things has based the strategy of her campaign not on the goal of reaching out to Republican and centrist voters, but of activating what she maintains is a large corps of non-voters who (she figures) would vote mostly Democratic if they participate.

How many of them actually are out there, or whether they can with certainty be brought into the voting base, no one yet knows for sure.

But the numbers in the week-old Idaho primary election suggest that significant numbers of them actually are out there. Maybe not enough to win general elections. But significant nonetheless.