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BOISE -- It was the fear coming into this May primary election, and it turned out to be the reality.

Procedural wise and technically it was a good election, disappointing in turnout, said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

The lowest percentage of registered voters in Idaho's history showed up to the polls Tuesday. Just 23 percent of registered voters cast a ballot during the first every closed Republican primary.

That means Tuesday's election brought fewer Idaho voters to the polls than the state's previous record low of 25 percent, which happened in the 1988 May primary election featuring Republican candidate George H.W. Bush running against Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis.

There's differing opinions on why this year s number dropped.

For the past 20 years voter participation has been declining, but this primary election proved to push that decline down even further. The why, depends who you ask.

Over a week ago, Ysursa feared voter turnout would be lower than average and potentially the lowest in Idaho's history. On Election Day, his fear became reality.

While it's commonly known that candidates and issues drive elections, Ysursa believes the low numbers of this election point to the closed Republican primary.

I think really made some folks decide to stay home, I don't want to declare publicly what my party is, I'm not going to vote in the primary, said Ysursa.

Statewide 179,489 of the roughly 750,000 registered voter went to the polls. Ada County, the state's largest pool of registered voters, had one of the lowest turnouts at 16.74 percent or 33,644 voters.

When you put so much effort, like we do, into an election, you really want to see people participate and become involved in the process, and it really was record low turnout yesterday, so I'd say disappointing in that regard, said Phil McGrane, Ada County s Chief Deputy Elections Clerk.

The past three primaries in Ada County pulled out 21 percent of registered voters.

So that's pretty significant compared to past elections, said McGrane.

McGrane says because of all the changes facing voters they did more education than ever before.

Voters came to the polls very informed yesterday about all the new rules, but part of it, being informed may have been what drove some people away, is they knew what the decisions were going to be and they decided, you know, it wasn't worth their time.

The Idaho Republican Party and its Executive Director Jonathan Parker don't see things that way.

Rather than saying it has everything to do with the closed primary, said Parker. I think it actually has more to do that we didn't have a presidential election on the ballot.

And there were other races not on the ballot as well, U.S. Senate and state officials. If the closed primary played a role in the turnout, Parker says it was only a very small one.

I think as people get educated, people get more accustomed to the process, I think you'll see voter turnout go back up, said Parker.

Other notable numbers:

  • Clark County, near the Wyoming border. 69.66 percent of registered voters cast a vote.
  • The lowest was Blaine County 13.62 percent.
  • Canyon County had almost 26 percent
  • Twin Falls had 25.2 percent of voters come out.

So where does that compare to years past? For the past seven to eight years 25 to 27 percent of Idaho s registered voters came out to vote. Ysursa would like to see that number up in the lower 30s. Parker says he'd like them even higher than that. So how do we get them there? Well, that's the $64,000 question.

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