New bill would prevent unaffiliated voters from affiliating at the polls during primary election
Legislation would not affect the ability for Idahoans to register to vote at the polls on Election Day
Voters enter Whittier Elementary to cast their ballots in Boise on Nov. 2, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
A new bill Idaho legislators introduced Thursday would make it so unaffiliated voters in Idaho could no longer affiliate with a political party at the polls on the day of a primary election.
Instead, if House Bill 439 is passed into law, unaffiliated voters would be required to affiliate with a political party by the last day that a candidate may declare for a partisan office prior to a primary election.
This year, that date is March 11. Under the bill, the deadline for unaffiliated voters to affiliate would fall on the 10th Friday preceding the primary election, so the date of the deadline would differ from year to year.
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Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, pushed the new bill, and the House State Affairs Committee voted to introduce it without any questions or debate.
Introducing the bill clears the way for it to return to the committee for a full public hearing.
Troy said she pushed the bill so that the deadline for unaffiliated voters would become the same as the deadline for voters already affiliated with one of the major political parties.
“Currently if you’re a Democrat or Republican, the only time that you can change your party affiliation is at the same date and it just broadens that to include unaffiliated,” Troy said during the meeting.
The bill would not affect the ability for Idahoans to register to vote at the polls on Election Day.
In a statement issued shortly after the bill was introduced Thursday, Idaho Democrats called the legislation another example of Republicans’ efforts to close ranks and exclude Idahoans from the ballot box.
“Idaho Democrats believe the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy,” the Democrats’ statement said.
“We’re committed to protecting and defending voting rights for every single Idahoan — regardless of their political affiliation. Because the Idaho Republican Party has chosen to close its primary, this bill would further disenfranchise the over 250,000 unaffiliated voters in our state. We should do more to involve all Idahoans in the political process rather than pass laws that do the complete opposite.”
Democrats also criticized Troy, saying her Latah County district includes many unaffiliated first-time voters attending the University of Idaho.
House Bill 439 includes an emergency clause that would make it effective immediately if it is signed into law. That means if the bill passes, it would create a new deadline for unaffiliated voters to affiliate for this year’s primary elections, which are scheduled for May 17.
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Two other Idaho elections-related bills also introduced
The voter affiliation deadline bill was one of three elections-related bills the House State Affairs Committee introduced Thursday.
Another bill, House Bill 438, applies to school board recalls and elections. That bill would make it so if a school board member is recalled (or if a school board member facing a recall resigns) within 90 days of an upcoming election, that position would remain vacant and candidates would run for the seat in the upcoming election. If the election is more than 90 days away, a temporary school board member would be appointed, and the seat would be up for election at the next scheduled election.
The other bill, which was being amended and did not yet have a bill number at the time this article was published, applied to senior voters living in residential care facilities. If passed into law, the bill would allow a county clerk to send a trained volunteer to a residential care facility to help voters walk through and fill out their absentee ballots.
Troy, who sponsored the bill, said she became interested in the idea after helping her mother navigate care facilities and residences. Committee members voted to introduce the bill but signaled they had many questions about it.
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