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Bill to limit who can vote absentee dies on House floor

Voting underway throughout the Treasure Valley. (Photos by Axel Quartarone)
Voting underway throughout the Treasure Valley. (Photos by Axel Quartarone)
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Update: Monday, March 13, 2023 -- The House voted to kill Rep. Joe Alfieri's bill that would have restricted who can vote absentee Monday afternoon. The bill failed in a 30-40 vote.


Originally posted Thu, February 23rd 2023, 5:55 PM MST:

Despite opposition from both Idaho's Secretary of State and county clerks, a bill limiting who can vote absentee is on its way to the full House.

Currently, if you want to request an absentee ballot, you don't need a reason.

"I think what it's become is a convenience, and more of a convenience. And I believe in convenience, but also this is voting," Rep. Mike Kingsley (R-Lewiston), a co-sponsor of the bill said.

Under Rep. Joe Alfieri's (R-Coeur d’ Alene) bill, you would only be allowed to request an absentee ballot if you're in active service of the military; you're hospitalized, ill or have a disability; you're unable to vote in person on Election Day because you have to work or attend university; or you're out of the country on a religious mission. An updated version of Alfieri's bill also allows someone to request a ballot if they’re staying in a second home or residence outside of their county - to account for snowbirds.

Someone would have to check one of those boxes when requesting an absentee ballot.

Alfieri argues more absentee ballots could open the door to voter fraud. However, he's previously admitted there’s no current problem with voter fraud in Idaho related to absentee ballots.

He also admits there's no real enforcement mechanism.

"We do not expect the county clerk to pursue people and go after them, however, there have been a couple of instances where people have been prosecuted for election fraud," Alfieri told the House State Affairs committee Thursday morning.

According to Idaho's top election official, the number of absentee ballots requested hasn’t changed much over time. He said absentee voting makes up roughly 15 percent of voter participation.

"Overwhelmingly, Idahoans choose to vote in person on Election Day," Secretary of State Phil McGrane told the committee.

He says Idaho already has a secure system.

"I don't believe that the security of our elections and the accessibility of our elections need to conflict with one another," McGrane said.

He also points out, in some of Idaho’s smallest precincts -- with residents spread far apart -- absentee voting is the only option.

McGrane says they validate every signature on every single absentee ballot, and while there are very rare instances of voter fraud, they catch them when they occur.

Most of the people who testified opposed the bill.

"We the people did not hire you to take our rights away," said Norma Staaf, who lives in the mountains of Idaho County. "We hired you to solve real problems."

Many said the legislation would disproportionately hurt older people, those living in rural or mountainous areas and those without transportation.

Staaf said it would take some people in her county two and a half hours just to get to the only in-person early voting location. To get to the polls on Election Day, she said it could take some folks about an hour or more.

"Well I would suggest that they buy groceries," Alfieri said in his closing argument. "I'm so upset with this frankly. Where does voting rank in your life? Where does your country rank in your life," Alfieri said.

Republicans were split on the matter. Rep. Chris Allgood (R-Caldwell) voted with Democrats in a losing bid to kill the legislation.

"Those people do this for a living, and they're telling us that what we're doing is the right thing to be doing," Allgood said. "I also take a bit of offense that if you vote by absentee ballot, you're less patriotic for some reason."

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The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.

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