Idaho legislative committee advances to bills making last-minute voting changes
If they become law, both bills would affect May 2022 primary elections
Early voting for the 2022 primary elections begins May 2. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
In the face of public opposition, the Idaho Legislature’s House State Affairs Committee advanced two bills Wednesday that would make significant changes to longtime voting procedures with little notice heading into the May 17 primary elections.
Republicans who backed the two bills said they are necessary to proactively protect against voter fraud and to enhance elections security and integrity.
But several voters, students, volunteer poll workers, and a couple of election officials and county clerks told legislators that passing the bills could create significant confusion heading into the heavily anticipated 2022 elections and make it more difficult for a variety of people to vote, including students, people who moved to Idaho recently and are eligible to vote here, senior citizens, people will illness and disabilities and those without transportation.
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One bill would prohibit absentee ballot drop boxes used in Ada County, Owyhee County and several other Idaho counties, while the second bill would make a host of changes to identification and registration requirements.
The 2022 elections are expected to shape Idaho government and politics for years to come. Every statewide office, including governor and superintendent of public instruction, is up for election this year, and all 105 seats in the Idaho Legislature are also up for election.
One bill would prohibit absentee ballot drop boxes in Idaho
Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, is sponsoring House Bill 693, which would prohibit absentee ballot drop boxes.
The drop boxes resemble the U.S. Postal Service mail drop boxes and allow voters to drop off their completed ballots.
Giddings said there is a cost/benefit analysis she applies when trying to get as many people to vote as possible and maintaining the security of elections.
“There is a higher benefit to not having these because of the potential with fraud or some unforeseen circumstance that could contaminate ballots in locations where there is not somebody there to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Giddings told the committee.
Giddings has said she isn’t aware of security concerns or fraud that arisen from the use of absentee ballot drop boxes in Idaho. She pitched her bill as a proactive measure and said she has concerns with the use of drop boxes in other states.
Everyone who testified during the public hearing on the bill Wednesday opposed it.
Owyhee County Clerk Angela Barkell said that the whole point of having absentee drop boxes is to facilitate voters’ right to vote.
“Having that location where they can go and drop that ballot is a convenience for our voters,” Barkell told legislators.
Amaia Clayton and Josie Christensen, who both worked as volunteer poll workers in 2020, told legislators the process of collecting absentee ballots from the boxes was safe and secure. They described the security and oversight of the ballots, like securing the key to the drop boxes, always working with partners or other elections officials around and monitoring the time the polls close on Election Day.
Christensen told legislators she worried pushing bills like this would actually give the public less confidence in elections and feed into fears.
“What we have works,” Christensen said.
Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Idaho Falls, was the only Republican on the House State Affairs Committee to join the committee’s two Democrats in voting against the bill. Furniss said he has used absentee drop boxes to vote and told legislators the county clerks in the legislative district he represents oppose the bill.
In the end, the House State Affairs Committee voted to send the bill to the House floor with a recommendation the Idaho House of Representatives pass it. To become law, the bill would still need to pass the Idaho Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Brad Little or allowed to become law without Little’s signature.
Giddings is running for lieutenant governor this year. She will face off against Speaker of the House Scott Bedke in the May 17 Republican primary. The winner advances to the Nov. 8 general election.
Candidate for secretary of state pushes sweeping changes to registration and identification laws
Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, is sponsoring House Bill 692, a 20-page bill that makes several changes to the types of identification that are accepted to vote and the procedures for registering to vote.
- Student identification cards would no longer be accepted to vote.
- Signed voter affidavits would no longer be accepted to verify a voter’s identity to vote.
- Idahoans who register to vote at the polls on Election Day would need to bring certain documents (allowable documents include a current Idaho driver’s license, recent utility bill and a current U.S. passport or birth certificate) to prove their identity and U.S. citizenship, not just their residence as is the case in current law.
- The bill would also create a fund to pay for free identification cards that Idahoans who do not have a driver’s license or state identification card could apply to use for voting.
Moon is running for secretary of state this year. The secretary of state is the top elections official in Idaho. She said the bill is a rewritten version of House Bill 549, which would have eliminated same-day voter registration entirely.
Moon said the new bill is necessary to tighten up voting security and ensure only U.S. citizens vote.
“On Election Day you provide the residency and identification and the citizenship for a first-time voter and if not, you just don’t vote,” Moon told legislators.
Everyone who testified at the bill’s public hearing Wednesday was opposed to it.
Kootenai County elections manager Asa Gray told legislators the bill contained flaws he worries will be disruptive to elections. He said a provision in the bill requiring clerks to mail registration documents only to a voter’s residence could be a problem because many Idahoans cannot get mail at their residence and use a post office box. In Sprit Lake, Gray said, most voters can’t get mail at residences. If those voter registration forms are returned to the county undeliverable, they could be canceled under Idaho law, Gray told legislators.
“So they could be completely eliminated in their right to vote for no fault of their own,” Gray said.
Gray also said it could make it hard for people to vote if they have moved to Idaho recently but have been unable to get an Idaho driver’s license or ID because of backlogs at the Department of Motor Vehicles or COVID-19.
“While I believe this legislation has a positive intention of continuing to keep Idaho elections safe and secure, it contains some flaws which lend themselves more to the disruption of the election process rather than the securing of it,” said Gray, who emphasized he was speaking only for himself.
Ethan Hobson, a 18-year-old newly registered voter and volunteer poll worker, told legislators he was against the bill because not everyone has a driver’s license or state ID card to prove their identity under the bill’s new requirements.
“This bill is a blatant expansion of government and an overreach of constitutional powers,” Hobson told legislators.
Following public testimony, the House State Affairs Committee voted along party lines to advance House Bill 692 to the House floor with a recommendation it pass. All Republicans voted for advancing the bill, while both Democrats voted against. To become law, the bill still needs to pass the Idaho Senate and be signed into law by Little or allowed to become law without his signature.
Saumya Sarin, a student who is turning 18 and will be voting for the first time in the May 17 primaries, told legislators they have a duty to make voting more accessible.
“I hope you all know the voters are watching right now, and even if we have to try a little harder, we will find a way to take what we see to the polls,” Sarin told legislators.
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Idaho’s governor expresses concern with last-minute elections changes
During a virtual press conference with reporters Wednesday morning, Little said the point of election bills and laws should be to make it easier for people to vote and harder to commit fraud. When asked by reporters, Little did say — without speaking about a specific bill — he’s worried about making changes so soon before the May 17 primary elections.
“It does concern me that you change the rules and a whole bunch of the electorate would not be aware of that change,” Little said. “We’ll see what happens. I generally don’t comment until I see the bills up here because of what happens on them and what gets amended, but I am concerned about changing the rules.”
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