Legislators seek to alter voting access with Idaho turnout at highest levels in decades

In 2020, more voters in Ada County voted absentee by mail than in-person on Election Day

By: - April 1, 2021 4:15 am

Rotunda at the Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

At a time when legislators are considering changes to voting, ballot initiative and election laws, the percentage of Idahoans voting is at the highest levels in decades.

Voter turnout in both the 2020 primary and general election was the highest percentage since at least before 1996, which is as far back as online records are available through the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office. 

But it isn’t just voting that is up. Absentee voting, likely due to the pandemic, was way up.

In November 2020, more voters in Ada County voted absentee by mail (41%) than in-person (26%) on Election Day. An additional 16% of Ada County residents voted early, often at an elections office or city hall. 

“Historically, I can’t imagine there ever being a time in election history where Election Day voting wasn’t the most prominent form of voting,” Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said. “This is the first election where we saw absentee mail voting be the most common.”

Despite high turnout, McGrane said Idaho’s elections went smoothly. He said his office is working with law enforcement and prosecutors on about a dozen cases of potential voter fraud from the November 2020 election. He said a few were people who tried to vote absentee by mail more than once and most were convicted felons attempting to vote and were “easy to catch.”

McGrane said none of the cases would have changed the outcome of any results. “In absentee voting, in many cases, we are able to catch it and stop it.”

“Our elections went very smoothly in the state of Idaho; hopefully that’s not something that gets lost on policymakers,” McGrane said. “One of the things I hope is that what comes out of the Legislature are things that bolster what we are doing and don’t try to tweak something that doesn’t need fixing.”

By the numbers  

Percentage of statewide voter turnout


  • Primary 38.1 percent * all absentee voting due to COVID-19 pandemic
  • General: 81.2 percent


  • Statewide primary: 23 
  • Presidential primary: 29.5
  • General: 75.87


  • Primary: 24.45
  • General: 74.34


  • Primary: 25.3 
  • General: 77.3 


  • Primary: 26.79
  • General: 76.79


  • Primary: 33.4
  • General: 70.96


  • Primary: 27.97
  • General: 72.53

 Source: Idaho Secretary of State’s Office


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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.