Bieter's Base 

North end, east turn out the vote, while west side lags

Boise may be a-changin' as new residents flood into the city, but the change is not so apparent when it comes to voting.

Voters in north, east and central Boise carried Mayor Dave Bieter to a second term in office, while voters on the western edge of the city preferred his opponent, Council Member Jim Tibbs—results many saw coming.

"It's almost a mirror image of previous Tibbs and Bieter elections," said Matt Ellsworth, Tibbs' campaign manager and a veteran of the Boise political scene. He points to Bieter's last election, when his strongholds were the Foothills and downtown, both precincts that favored Bieter heavily in the recent election. Additionally, he struggled in the west end of the city four years ago, an area that Tibbs dominated this year.

This time around, Bieter won the overall vote 64 percent to 36 percent, but his support was greatest in the North End, east Boise, downtown and on the Boise Bench.

In eight of these precincts, Bieter won more than 80 percent of the votes. In 14 other precincts, he took more than 70 percent of the vote, as well as 72 percent of 1,945 absentee ballots cast.

These areas also favored the three incumbent City Council candidates, Alan Shealy, David Eberle and Elaine Clegg, by higher margins than elsewhere in the city. Both Shealy and Clegg lost one or more precincts to challengers. Eberle was the only Boise candidate that won in all 80 city precincts.

"That's the pattern we've seen develop over the last 10 to 12 years," said Chuck Winder, who ran for mayor in 2003.

"It's been that way for a long time, and it's gotten stronger Democratic [support] in those areas of town," he said. "It used to be more of a blend. Now, it's more dominated by more of the Democratic Party, and they get out and vote. They're well organized and they see the opportunity to gain some political power in a state that's dominated by the Republican Party."

On the other side of the city, Tibbs won in 13 precincts, including all of the most western areas. Additionally, Steven Kimball, who challenged Shealy for Seat No. 1 on the council, won in 10 precincts, the majority of which lie along the western fringes of Boise.

Ryan Hill, Bieter's campaign manger, said the western portion of the city has always favored more conservative candidates, adding there may be some residual ill will after the city annexed portions of the area several years ago.

John Freemuth, political science professor at Boise State, compared the results to a similar pattern seen in the Foothills levy election in 2001.

"To generalize, you find that a lot," he said. "Those areas tend to be a little more Democrat-leaning or progressive."

The areas that gave the greatest support to Bieter were also the areas that had the highest voter turnout. Citywide turnout was roughly 30 percent, with 32,323 of the 106,853 registered voters casting ballots in the election.

But five precincts boasted numbers nearing 50 percent. Among those, Precinct 32 on the Bench, and Precinct 37 in the North End, had the highest turnout rates in the city, with 45.7 percent and 46 percent respectively. An additional 29 precincts reported higher-than-average voter turnout.

The lowest turnout in last week's election was 9.59 percent in Precinct 75, surrounding Boise State.

Early predictions that voter turnout might reach near-record lows of 10 percent were "a little doomsday-ish," Ellsworth said.

Historically, voter participation in local elections lags behind statewide and national elections. Some blame it on the constant parade of elections, and arguments have been made to synchronize all elections to get the greatest voter turnout. But under the current staggered system, local elections will always lag, Freemuth said.

"People just aren't as aware that those elections are going on," he said.

Freemuth credits the relatively high voter turnout blocks to a well-organized effort to get out the vote originally organized for the Foothills levy. "They can be put back into place in other elections like this when they feel they can make a difference," he said.

Winder said, historically, residents in those sections of the city tend to be more active voters.

"Citizens in those areas go and vote," he said. "Republicans in other parts of Boise just don't seem to engage in the nonpartisan elections, but they will turn out for the partisan elections."

Because of this, Winder said the north and east areas of the city have been able to control the outcome of City Council elections and thereby set the tone and agenda for the council.

"People just don't think they have a dog in the fight," he said. "There are many more issues that face the central part of the community, as the established neighborhoods. They've worked hard to develop that political clout over the years."

The lack of any polarizing issue also hurt turnout, Winder said.

"There wasn't really much of a contest," he said. "There didn't seem to be a lot of traction on the Republican or Tibbs side of it. Everybody felt for months that it was Bieter's to lose."

Hill agreed that people who are happy with the status quo often don't feel the need to vote. "Some pockets are unhappy with the direction the mayor and council are going," he said. "But for the most part, people are generally pretty satisfied with the direction the city is going. If you're content, you tend to stay home."

Both Bieter and Tibbs focused effort in the areas of the city they felt would give them the greatest support. While Tibbs spent time knocking on doors, Bieter deluged the airwaves with commercials and sent out several mass mailings.

Bieter's well-funded campaign machine dominated the race in the end.

"This one can be explained by the ability to turn out the vote in these areas," Freemuth said. "You didn't see the same sort of turnout machine for Jim Tibbs at that level."

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