A proposal to help Idahoans living abroad vote absentee in elections could also limit the opportunity of voters who want to cast the ballot at county clerks' offices the day before an election. The Senate State Affairs Committee approved legislation backed by the secretary of state that would bring Idaho into line with federal law designed to help members of the military living outside the U.S. successfully vote in elections.
The legislation would require county clerks to mail out all absentee ballots 45 days before an election. Idaho citizens living overseas could get their ballot via fax or e-mail, but would have to mail a paper ballot back to Idaho to have their vote count.
The legislation would also end in-person absentee balloting at county clerks’ offices, sometimes called early voting, to end on the Friday before an election, rather than Monday, the day before an election. Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst said the early cut-off would give county clerks more time to clean up the poll books and make sure no early voters would be able to vote again on election day. Hurst said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa supports the change. “He is concerned about the perception that some people have about voter fraud, and this would address some of that,” Hurst said. “The poll books would be more complete when they go out to the polls on Tuesday.”
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said she’s worried that the result could be fewer people voting. “By changing this last day, given that we have had large turnout on the Monday before [in 2008,] this seems like a voter suppression action,” she said. Kelly added that many people could decide to vote during the weekend before an election. Hurst said that people who want to vote on a Monday could still vote on a Tuesday.
All the other senators on the panel supported the change to absentee and early voting. “We have seen tragic examples around the country dealing with voter fraud,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. “This helps minimize that.” The new requirements wouldn’t go into effect until this November’s election. The legislation now heads to the Senate for a full vote. Read the text of the legislation, SB1408, here.