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Idaho's May primary will now be done by mail due to coronavirus concerns

"I urge all voting Idahoans to request their absentee ballots as soon as possible so they can vote from home this year," Gov. Little said.

BOISE, Idaho — Note: As of Tuesday, March 31 the idahovotes.gov site where Idahoans can request an absentee ballot was experiencing network outages, resulting in some people getting error messages. The Secretary of State's Office is working to fix the issue.

Idaho's primary election will still be held on Tuesday, May 19 but now all voting will be done by mail, the state announced on Monday afternoon.

Officials said the change for mail-in voting was done out of concerns of the growing coronavirus pandemic. They made the decision after it was obvious that the state could not get polling places and poll workers for the election.

"We are trying to eliminate the physical gathering of people," Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said.

Gov. Brad Little and the Secretary of State Lawrence Denney will work with every county to streamline the absentee voting process. 

Doing the election by all absentee will more than likely delay when results will be available. 

"We’re looking at that delayed anywhere from one to two weeks at this point," Houck said. "Because of the way we’re going to have to process this election."

The state will more than likely change when the ballot needs to be the respective county clerk's office. Normally, a ballot must be in by 8 p.m. local time or when the polls close. However, since no polls will be opening that day, there will be no polls closing deadline. 

MORE: Idaho Secretary of State asks for primary election postponement, urges absentee voting due to coronavirus concerns

Houck told KTVB the state is thinking about changing it to allow absentee ballots that are postmarked by 8 p.m. instead of in the county clerk's office by that time. This will impact when workers start counting the ballots.

"If we postmark, and we need time for that ballot to arrive," Houck said. "We’re going to basically say none until are all in."

The decision will impact clerks like Phil McGrane, the Ada County Clerk. 

"I think it’s a wise decision by the Governor’s office and the Secretary of State’s office to take steps necessary to protect the safety of voters and the safety of our poll workers as we move forward with the May 19 election," he said.

The state and county clerks across the state will be working on educating voters to request an absentee ballot from Idahovotes.gov. The state will also be sending out absentee ballot requests to every single registered voter in Idaho.

An important step in this election will be choosing what ballot voters want. They can receive a Republican, Democratic, or Non-partisan ballot.

"This is the primary election so it’s the party nomination process for the general election and we need to know what ballot to give voters," McGrane said. "That decision becomes crucial for this election."

The change to all absentee will present new challenges, according to McGrane. He told KTVB he is shifting resources from running all the precincts in Ada County to processing absentee ballots. His office is anticipating 15 times the absentee ballots that were requested for the May primary in 2016.

"What we save in the polling locations will just be picked up in terms of what we do in terms of mail," he said.

The decision to move to all absentee needed to be made sooner rather than later. McGrane told KTVB his office is already prepping everything for the May election. 

Ballots and other materials have already been printed, and his office will be mailing out the first ballots on Friday. This is why election officials are urging Idahoans to request their ballot sooner rather than later.

"The easiest thing to do right now is visit Idahovotes.gov and right on the main page there will be a link that says vote early Idaho," McGrane said. "We want to have voters click on that and there is an absentee voter request process that they can fill out."

The deadline to request the ballot is 11 days before the primary date, May 19. If that request isn't in on time, that person will not get to vote.

This all absentee ballot is a first for the Gem state.

"Idaho has never done this, Idaho has intentionally never done it this way," McGrane said. "I think it really speaks to the unique circumstances with the coronavirus and everything the state is facing right now with social distancing and others."

Gov. Little's office said he will make an official proclamation on the election changes in the next few days.

"While the coronavirus situation may change how we practice our right to vote in this primary election, it is important to keep our election dates in place," Governor Little said in a statement. "I urge all voting Idahoans to request their absentee ballots as soon as possible so they can vote from home this year."

Denney said his office as already made it possible for Idaho voters to register to vote and request an absentee ballot online, which can be found here.

Idaho Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill and House Speaker Scott Bedke both agreed that voting is an essential and core American value and right and that those values will continue this election by switching to absentee voting.

"We all hope Idaho's situation with coronavirus will improve before election day on May 19, but decisions cannot wait. Governor Little is making the right call to conduct the election by mail," Hill said in a statement.

RELATED: Idaho election officials work on alternatives to in-person voting for May primary

RELATED: 'Please stay home, please stay healthy': Here's how Ada County is handling COVID-19

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