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Ada County Clerk shares insight on how new residents are voting

With a recent influx of new residents from outside Idaho, there are questions about what the future voting demographics of Ada County could look like.

ADA COUNTY, Idaho — In recent years, thousands of people have moved to Ada County from outside of Idaho, raising this question: Who will they vote for in local elections?

“It is one of the really interesting things; we provide candidates and political parties lots of information and data about what the participation looks like, including who is coming through the polls on election day. That’s something I’m sure both political parties watched closely,” said Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane.

McGrane runs elections for Idaho’s most populous county. He and his team are wrapping up the 2021 general election, and noticed some trends among new Ada County voter registrations and their political affiliation.

“We definitely see with all the population growth, especially in the western part of Ada County, that really it continually is getting more and more conservative -- more Republicans. I think the Meridian City Council races were a really good reflection of that; Eagle City Council races as well. We started to see more party politics creeping into these otherwise nonpartisan elections, and just a lot more participation that way,” McGrane said.

McGrane notes there are interesting results in this year's election, specifically in Boise.

“I think arguably there is now a Republican on the Boise City Council with Luci Willits winning her race over there. I think that is a reflection of those districts in Boise, but in other races people expected watching that the Lisa Sanchez and Greg MacMillan race would probably be closer than it ended up, which is a reflection of what downtown Boise looks like as well,” McGrane said.

McGrane says he recently saw another anecdotal indicator of conservatives leaving California for Idaho because of state politics.

“There was a slight slowdown in real estate activity during the Governor Newsome recall efforts and then immediately after that there was a surge in people interested in homebuying here in Ada County. I think that is a reflection of politics as much as it is anything else. We are definitely seeing that play out locally like we are on the national stage,” McGrane said.

The focus in Idaho politics now shifts to the May 2022 primary election, which features a collection of major races including Governor and Lt. Governor, along with other statewide offices, as well as a U.S. Senate seat, both of Idaho's U.S. House seats and the entire Idaho Legislature.

State politics have, in recent decades, generally shown that the winner of the Republican primary goes on to win the general election. In recent years, the Idaho Republican Party has maintained a rule that only registered Republicans can vote a Republican ballot in the primary.

Meanwhile the Democratic, Libertarian and Constitution parties leave their primaries open to any political affiliation and to Idaho voters who remain unaffiliated. Because of the importance of the May primary, there are community conversations in the months leading up to the primary about people changing their party affiliation. There is a lot of talk, but do people really change their affiliation to vote?

“We don’t see people change their party back and forth very much. I know we always hear talk about it and I know you hear that for sure, but we don’t see as much switching as people would think. Usually when people register, they lock into a party. Really the big thing, especially ahead of May, is people choosing to affiliate if they want to, specifically those unaffiliated voters,” McGrane said.

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