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Idaho legislation to restrict absentee ballots 'adds workload' to county clerks

Rep. Joe Alfieri (R-Coeur d'Alene) proposed House Bill 75 to limit who can qualify for an absentee ballot. The bill would make elections harder for county clerks.

BOISE, Idaho — Rep. Joe Alfieri (R-Coeur d'Alene) introduced House Bill 75 (HB75) Thursday in the House State Affairs Committee to "reduce the number of absentee ballots" submitted in Idaho elections.

Anyone in Idaho can request an absentee ballot from their respective county clerk; the ballots can be submitted via ballot drop boxes or through mail. HB75 would limit absentee ballots only to active military, people with disability or under hospitalization, those stuck at work or college, and anyone out of their registered county for a religious missionary trip.

"[Unrestricted absentee voting] opens up the door for fraud as we have seen in other states. We don’t have the problem here, but we have seen that happen in other states where absentee ballots have been a contested issue in the election," Rep. Alfieri said in committee.

This legislation streamlines election day and makes the tabulation process easier for county clerks, according to Rep. Alfieri. However, that's not true according to the Ada County Clerk's office.

"It's a popular way to vote for many people. I would like to see it remain that way. It is a benefit to the clerks who administer the elections. I think we have a really good process in place," Ada County Clerk Trent Tripple said. "If not a lot of people are using absentees, then they're showing up on election day. That means longer lines, increased costs to the county and to the taxpayer. We have to come up with more polling places and more precincts. I don't think in the end [HB75 is] gonna be a relief for clerks. I think it's gonna be an added burden."

Rep. Alfieri brought up an instance in Kootenai County where absentee ballots took several days to finally be tabulated; the North Idaho representative used this "paperwork backup" as an example for why absentee ballots are a problem.

Tripple told KTVB it's not that simple.

"The real process we would want to go through to help us in that regard would be to open absentee ballots earlier than the day before elections. That would be the pressure release that would allow a lot of the counties to get through those absentees a lot easier," Tripple said.

The solution Tripple proposed is similar to how early voting already works. The voters are processed ahead of election day; however, they are not released to ensure day-of voters are not influenced in any way.

Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise) openly opposed HB75 in committee.

"I don't want election fraud. Nobody does," Rep. Gannon said. "I'm not sure what problem is being solved. The result of the whole situation is more inconvenience, longer lines, and more work at a crunch time for the election officials."

Rep. Alfieri responded in committee to concerns of potential voter suppression. Rep. Alfieri suggested people utilize early in-person voting who otherwise cannot make it to the polls on election day. Not every Idaho county offers early voting, according to Tripple. Additionally, such a law would disproportionately impact rural Idahoans, according to Rep. Gannon.

"For many, it is a long drive to go to a precinct to vote in person. For them, it may be even more of a convenience to have this absentee voting procedure Idaho has than people in Boise," Rep. Gannon said. "In Ada County even, there are only a couple [early voting locations]."

Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) voiced concern in committee over an enforcement mechanism for anyone lying to their county clerk to receive an absentee ballot under HB75 requirements. Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) cited Idaho Code 18-5413 which states any person giving false information about their identity to local government is punishable by misdemeanor.

HB75 remains in the House State Affairs Committee. KTVB attempted to contact Rep. Alfieri via his official statehouse phone number and email address. KTVB did not hear back on the request.

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