BOISE - The May 21 election in Ada County saw extremely low voter turnout, with only 5.4% of registered voters going to the polls. With low turnout, 7 Investigates looked at how much each vote was worth in terms of the cost to the county taxpayers for each vote cast.
On the May ballot in Ada County were issues from funding the Eagle City Hall to electing the board of the Greater Auditorium District and Kuna schools. Overall, 9,457 people voted.
I would say the voter turn-out was lower than we anticipated. I thought it would be below 10% for this election because it was still a very small district election, but I thought it would be much closer to that 10% mark as opposed to down to 5% where we actually ended up, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane said.
The Ada County Elections office preliminarily tells KTVB the May election cost $149,452.71. That number will go up because figures have not yet been calculated for things like staff wages, postage, notification cards and poll book printing.
Using that cost and the number of voters who showed up at the polls, each vote is calculated to have cost $15.80.
For context, the 2012 November election had such high turn out (184,000) that even with a total cost of $740,000, the county only spent $4.02 per vote.
Election officials note issues drive voters. For example, the November election included voting for the president. The May election included much lower-profile issues, garnering lower turnout.
Different issues have a huge impact on the turnout for voters. In Eagle in particular this election, it was the second time we were doing the bond election recently, so there's a lot more attention in the City of Eagle compared to a lot of the other districts where there wasn't nearly as much attention, McGrane said.
Obviously, the more people who vote, the better it figures out for being worth an entire election set up, but election officials will be the first to say you can't really put a pricetag on the right to participate in local government.
The cost per vote is part of just doing business. It's part of what's required to maintain the system of government that we have here, McGrane said. It's a slow day for a poll worker when no one shows up to an election, and we want people to be involved, and we want peoples' voices to be heard, so it's disappointing when you see 5% compared to say a Presidential election where we see people come out in droves.
In many elections, it's not just the taxpayers spending money, it's often the candidates. KTVB collected campaign spending documents from the Greater Boise Auditorium District candidates. As of a week before the election, some candidates hadn't spent any money and others had spent thousands.
Ultimately, the cost per vote won for each of those candidates ranged from $0 to $2.20.