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Viewpoint: Preparing for Idaho’s historic May primary

Voter interest in the election is proving to be very high. Elections officials believe it’s because of the unique circumstances caused by the coronavirus.

BOISE, Idaho — Voter interest in Idaho's May Primary is proving to be very high.

Elections officials say their staffs are working hard to keep up with the demand for absentee ballots.

It is a historic election.

Because of the coronavirus state of emergency, the state is holding an election entirely by absentee ballot for the first time ever.

They believe interest is so high because of the circumstances.

Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck says about 320,000 people have requested ballots so far.

To put that in perspective, voters cast a total of 232,160 votes in March's presidential primary.

That number includes in-person, early and absentee voting combined.

"With over 300,000 out we're looking potentially at record returns," Houck said. "If those come in at high numbers, if it's 80%, 90%, we could see a greater turnout than what we saw in the presidential primary in March."

According to the Ada County Clerk's elections website, as of Friday morning, 

Ada County alone had issued more than 107,000 ballots, and voters had already returned more than 33,000 of those.

Compare those numbers to the 2016 primary when a total of 35,000 people voted.

Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane says the 2016 primary is similar to this year's because it did not include a high-interest race like 2018's race for governor. In the 2018 primary, nearly 79,000 voted.

McGrane calls this year's election a major undertaking. He has crews in the clerk's office at 6 a.m. entering ballot requests.

"I think one of the biggest things we've had to ask voters for in this election is just patience," McGrane said. I think that's one of the things to emphasize to viewers right now, is if they've requested a ballot, let's say in the last week, they may not have received it yet. And that's because we're working through so many ballots and so many requests to get them out to voters. But the good news for this election that is unique is there is additional time for voters to both get their ballots and then to return them."

Requests for absentee ballots are due next Tuesday May 19. Ballots must be received by your county elections office by June 2. That's the date the votes will actually be counted.

For some great voter resources check out the Voter Guide on KTVB.com.

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