Voter turnout at last week’s Moscow City Council election was much higher than the three previous city elections, according to information provided by Latah County Election Director Jennifer Henrichs.

Latah County Commissioners are expected to canvass the votes today to make them official.

The Nov. 5 election, which resulted in the election of progressives Maureen Laflin, Anne Zabala and Sandra Kelly to the city council, featured a 53.4-percent voter turnout.

That turnout — the number of votes cast divided by the number of registered voters — eclipsed a turnout of 28.9 percent in 2017, 16.9 percent in 2015 and 36.3 percent in 2013.

Moscow elections are held in November every odd year.

“It was good to see people in our town that are very involved with city government,” Moscow Mayor Bill Lambert said.

Laflin, Zabala and Kelly won in a landslide over more conservative candidates Kelsey Berends, Brandon Mitchell and James Urquidez. It appeared residents voted for one set of three candidates or the other as Laflin, Zabala and Kelly were separated by 207 votes (4,379 for Laflin, 4,288 for Zabala and 4,172 for Kelly) while Mitchell (1,670), Urquidez (1,648) and Berends (1,605) were separated by 65 votes.

Kelly said she was impressed and excited at the turnout, which she said was a result of residents learning about candidates and their views at candidate forums and researching the candidates themselves.

Kelly said she, Laflin and Zabala did not want the race to be divided between the two groups, but instead to be focused on their own ideas. She said Berends, Mitchell and Urquidez joined forces early on and that she, Laflin and Zabala supported each other, as well.

“We want it to be inclusive and diverse and I think people voted for inclusivity this time around,” Kelly said.

Election cements female majority

The election of Kelly, Laflin and Zabala means the council will remain a female majority as five of the six council seats will be filled by women come January. Brandy Sullivan and Gina Taruscio are the other two female councilors and Art Bettge will be the lone man.

Councilors Jim Boland and Kathryn Bonzo chose not to run for reelection this year.

The council has consisted of four women since January 2018 — the first time women held the majority since 2004 and 2005.

Kelly said the female majority is important in terms of a historical perspective.

“I think that’s really what the most important thing is that having women on the council is common now, and that to me is really, really exciting,” she said.

But, Kelly said serving on the council is really about what Moscow residents want.

She said she does not think gender will factor into decisions made by the city council.

“I think it’s where you align,” Kelly said. “I mean are we pretty progressive? Yeah, for the most part I think we are, but I don’t want to scare people with that word, either.”

Kelly said progressive can mean a variety of things, but in this case, it means ideas like smart energy use and business growth, and using data to base decisions.

“It’s really about keeping Moscow the same vibrant, eclectic community that it’s always been,” she said.

Zabala said it is exciting to have a strong female representation in city government. She referenced the portraits of previous Moscow mayors that line the walls in the Mayor’s Conference Room at City Hall. All are men except for two.

“To have an almost all-women council is I think a really cool, exciting thing,” Zabala said.

Zabala said certain perspectives are derived from being a woman and progressive, but many decisions councilors make pertain to public infrastructure, and those decisions should be decided by people who are conscientious, work hard and are open to various ideas.

Laflin said time will ultimately tell on how councilors think and vote on things.

“I do think that overall, at least for the three people that were elected, that we all consistently talked about the need for data and understanding and listening to what people in the community want,” she said. “So I think that labels like progressive and not progressive or conservative, don’t really help us move forward in that way, and I do think that if anybody feels like they’re not being heard, I really hope that they talk to me and other members of council.”

Lambert said gender and platform does not make any difference to him.

“Of course, as always with me, whatever city council I get I always work with them,” Lambert said. “So we work together to try to get things done for our town.”

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com.

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