By Melissa Davlin, Devon Downey, Idaho Reports
In a year that broke midterm election voter turnout records, eastern Idaho’s Madison County saw the lowest turnout in the state, with just 44.5 percent of registered voters showing up. One area of Rexburg in particular had remarkably low turnout: University Precinct, which encompasses the BYU-Idaho campus, had just 13.4 percent turnout — one of the lowest turnouts in the state.
Madison County made the news on election day with signs at precincts near Brigham Young University-Idaho discouraging students from registering to vote in Idaho. The sign prompted a letter from the ACLU-Idaho and cries of voter suppression on social media.
Secretary of State Lawerence Denney told Idaho Reports he was concerned about the signs and asked that they be taken down. Though there can be consequences to out-of-state students registering to vote in Idaho, such as losing in-state tuition for graduate or medical school in their home states, that education should take place well before election day, Denney said.
There is no way to accurately measure who might have seen the signs and decided not to vote, nor what turnout would have been had the signs not been up for half the day.
But is the low turnout among university students that abnormal? Yes and no. In the last midterm general election, in 2014, University precinct had 17.6 percent turnout, while Madison County as a whole had a 42.3 percent turnout. In other words, the precinct had a slightly better showing, while the county had a lower percentage.
Precinct boundaries were redrawn and renamed after 2010, but in that year’s election, precincts near the BYU-Idaho campus also had low turnout, with one precinct seeing just 7 percent of its registered voters show up on election day.
College students are tricky voting demographic to reach, but other university towns across the state had higher turnouts. This year, in Moscow, home of the University of Idaho, no single precinct dipped below 34 percent. Idaho State University’s Pocatello didn’t have a precinct below 36 percent, and in Ada County’s Bronco County, precinct 1710, which includes Boise State University, still had 49 percent turnout.
Madison County Clerk Kim Muir told Idaho Reports on Monday that she wasn’t aware of Madison’s relatively low turnout compared to the rest of the state.
“I really don’t know what the factors were for that,” Muir said. “We don’t have a lot of college students show up except for presidential elections.”
She did note that the signs directed at students have been up in multiple elections, and that the county has split precincts since the 2016 presidential election.
Blaine County had the highest turnout at 76.3 percent. Statewide, the turnout was 66.7 percent.