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Unchallenged races determined in low turnout primaries

A man who appears blurred is walking in front of empty voting booths.
Otto Kitsinger
Associated Press
A man leaves the voting booths after voting in the 2016 primary election in Boise.

While primaries are often seen as practice runs for the general election - a time to make sure voting equipment runs properly and poll workers are trained - unopposed races mean the outcome of yesterday’s election guarantees a November win.

Many candidates in Idaho run without a challenger in primary elections, which means some races are decided in May rather than in the general election.

Matthew May from Boise State University’s Policy institute said it’s not uncommon to see major party candidates run unchallenged in single party dominant states.

“Last election in 2022, out of 105 legislative seats, there were 15 competitive races with a major party challenger,” he said. “That's the only percentage of the legislature that reasonably had some sort of decision point on the general election ballot.”

“It de facto moves the contest portion where there is actually some potential to influence results to the primary election rather than the general election,” he added.

For example, the Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney race was decided Tuesday. Former Adams County Prosecutor and Far Right candidate Chris Boyd largely won the Republican nomination against his opponent, Greg Chaney. May says voters are more likely to show up at the polls when they perceive the race to be critical.

“Historically, primary turnout is low. It's kind of that first stage election. The people most likely to show up are the party faithful,” May said.

In Canyon County, primaries usually see 25% to 28% turnout compared to 70% during general elections. This round, Boyd won with a total of roughly 14,000 votes, or 12% of the county’s more than 110,000 registered voters.

Republican primaries are closed in Idaho, meaning almost 40% of registered voters in Canyon County are not members of the GOP and weren’t allowed to cast their ballot in this race. Boyd will be on November’s ballot unopposed.

I joined Boise State Public Radio in 2022 as the Canyon County reporter through Report for America, to report on the growing Latino community in Idaho. I am very invested in listening to people’s different perspectives and I am very grateful to those who are willing to share their stories with me. It’s a privilege and I do not take it for granted.

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