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Uncontested city races cut election costs for Idaho counties

People behind voting booths
Frederic J. Brown
AFP/Getty Images
Citizens vote in an election.

On Sept. 26, Boise city staff announced that two council members, Luci Willits and Jimmy Hallyburton, both up for reelection, would not appear on the November ballot.

It's the result of a 2020 state law, which said city elections would not occur if only one candidate had filed for a specific office or if, in cities without designated seats, the number of candidates filing was the same as or less than the available seats. Willits in District 1 and Hallyburton in District 6 both ran unopposed and were declared winners by the city clerk.

The change in law brought cities in line with other local taxing districts that already followed this protocol for uncontested races. Lawmakers said it could provide "slight savings" in election costs for counties.

The law first went into effect for the 2021 municipal elections, but it's getting more attention this year because there are three uncontested city council races in Idaho's two most populous cities -- the two seats in Boise, and Meridian Councilmember John Overton's uncontested race.

Trent Tripple, the Ada County Clerk of the Fourth District Court and the county election official, said this year's uncontested races in Boise and Meridian may be a result of another recent state law requiring cities with over 100,000 people to elect council members by districts instead of at-large.

"We'll have a high probability that there's only one person who files within that district that's qualified to run for that particular city district," he said.

Not having to list the uncontested city races in Boise, Meridian, Kuna and Star on ballots will likely save Ada County around $30,000 to $40,000, according to Tripple. The savings will come from printing fewer ballot pages. Currently, most ballots in the county are a single page, front and back, but including uncontested city races could have led to multi-page ballots.

Still, Tripple described it as a "small cost savings" for the county with more than half a million residents. All polling places will still be open for other items, including a county-wide jail bond. That's different for some smaller Idaho counties where uncontested races are more common.

Boundary County is not holding an election at all next week because there are no contested races. It estimates savings of $8,000 in personnel and materials costs.

Jerome County expects to save about $3,000 with fewer voters going to the polls. Most residents in Jerome won't have anything to vote on, which will allow the county to close three precincts and staff others more sparsely. However, Cy Lootens, the county clerk, said a potential tradeoff to the monetary savings is more confused voters.

"Some people call and they say they feel slighted because we're not allowing them the opportunity to vote," he said.

He wondered if it could affect turnout for the remaining measures and contests.

Willits and Hallyburton also expressed their concerns during the Boise City Council meeting in September.

"I think it's important that people have the ability, whether there's one person running or a lot of people, to pencil in a bubble and say, 'Yes, I'm voting for this person,' or also have the ability to not pencil in that bubble," Hallyburton said.

Tripple said he hasn't yet heard from Ada County voters confused about the change. He emphasized the counties are obligated to follow the law passed by the legislature, and that they don't have a choice to run the uncontested races or not.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.

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