Bill Description: House Bill 441 authorizes county clerks to send authorized designees to help residents of nursing or assisted living facilities complete their absentee ballot.
Does it create, expand, or enlarge any agency, board, program, function, or activity of government?
This legislation calls for county clerks to recruit, train, and dispatch volunteers to help residents of nursing or assisted living facilities fill out their absentee ballots. This expands the role of government officials in elections.
Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency, accountability, or election integrity?
This legislation intends to rectify concerns of ballot harvesting and electioneering in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This pursuit could improve election integrity in the Gem State. However, this bill also enacts a form of state-sponsored ballot harvesting by sending government volunteers to these facilities to do the same work previously conducted by private interest groups. Therefore, it is unclear if this policy would increase the integrity of Idaho’s elections.
Does it violate the principle of equal protection under the law?
Many who live in nursing or assisted living facilities are unable to complete an absentee ballot without assistance. Under Article VI, Section 2 of the Idaho State Constitution, these people are qualified electors and have the right to have their vote recorded in an election. The intent of this legislation is to allow these citizens to engage with their constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.
Although the intent of the bill is to expand equal protection for all citizens in Idaho’s elections, as written, the bill would violate voter autonomy and election fairness. First, the people who receive assistance in these facilities would be determined by the “person in charge of that facility.” There is no mechanism for a resident to opt-out of this assistance program, nor a method for someone to request assistance. Therefore, residents could receive assistance unfairly, manipulating the outcome of votes coming from these facilities.
Secondly, this legislation would give the advantage of choosing volunteers to “… each of the two (2) largest political parties, as determined by the vote cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.” This provides a special perk to the major political parties, even in municipal and school elections, and in the general election.
Despite provisions in this bill to ensure that nursing home and assisted living residents can participate in Idaho elections, loopholes in the administration of the program and favoritism toward the two major parties violates citizens’ right to equal protection under the law.
Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the United States Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?
This bill violates Article VI, Section 1 of the Idaho State Constitution which states:
“All elections by the people must be by ballot. An absolutely secret ballot is hereby guaranteed, and it shall be the duty of the legislature to enact such laws as shall carry this section into effect.”
There is no provision in this legislation that would protect residents against the disclosure of their private voting choices. Allowing volunteer state officials to witness the voting choices of a resident violates both the letter and the spirit of Article VI of the Constitution.
STAY CONNECTED with the latest news, research and opinions from the Gem State.