BOISE, Idaho — The November 2020 general election will be unprecedented as a record number of Idahoans are expected to cast their vote by mail via absentee ballot.
While polling places throughout the state will be open for in-person voting on Nov. 3, many voters will look to avoid the polls due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Whether you plan to vote in person or by mail, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know to make sure your vote is counted on election day.
Here are the topics covered in this guide:
- What's on your ballot
- Important election dates
- How to register to vote
- Voting by absentee ballot
- Voting in person
- Are Idaho's elections secure?
- What do the special session bills mean for voters?
Editor's note: The above video is a brief Q&A segment from KTVB's virtual town hall on September 22. You can watch the full meeting by clicking here.
What's on your ballot
Federal and state elections are held in even-numbered years. On the federal side of the Nov. 3 ballot, you will see races for president, U.S. senator, and U.S. representative.
You will also find races for state lawmakers, including senators and representatives from Idaho's 35 legislative districts.
For a look at all of the federal and state races, click or tap here. To find out which legislative district you live in (as well as your voting location), click or tap here. You can also view a pdf map of all of Idaho's legislative and congressional districts.
Voters will also be asked to decide local races and issues, including elections for county commissioners, sheriffs, prosecutors and trustees for various taxing districts. For a county-by-county breakdown of local races, click or tap here.
Important Idaho election dates
State and county election officials are urging Idahoans who plan to vote by mail to do so as earlier as possible, given the increased volume of absentee ballots expected for this election. Below is a list of key dates and deadlines you should know about.
Oct. 2 - Deadline for county commissioners to designate polling places
Oct. 5 - County clerks must mail absentee ballots to voters who have requested them
Oct. 9 - Pre-registration deadline: Voter registrations must be received by the county clerk (Deadline is postmarked by this date for mailed paper applications; 5 p.m. for paper applications handed into the county clerk’s office, or until midnight for online applications.)
It's worth noting that Idaho law allows you to register in person on the day of an election. If you have missed the online or mail-in voter pre-registration deadline, you can still register to vote and cast a ballot on election day. Simply go to your regular polling place or early voting site to register and vote. You will need to bring with you a current and valid driver’s license or identification card issued by the Idaho Department of Motor Vehicles.
Oct. 19 - Early in-person voting begins for counties that choose to conduct early voting.
Oct. 23 - Absentee ballot application deadline: Applications must be received by the county clerk by 5 p.m.
Oct. 30 - Early voting ends at 5 p.m.
Nov. 3 - Absentee ballot return deadline: Absentee ballots must be received at your county clerk's office by 8 p.m.
Nov. 3 - Election day: Polling places and the county clerks' offices open 8 a.m.– 8 p.m.
How to register to vote in Idaho
If you're not sure whether you are registered to vote in Idaho or to check if your voter registration is up-to-date, the Idaho Secretary of State's Office has an online tool to help you look up that information. On that page, you will also be able to update or submit a new registration, request an absentee ballot and look up your polling place.
As noted in the dates and deadlines section above, voter registrations must be received by your county clerk by October 9. If you miss that deadline, you can still register at the poll. Simply go to your regular polling place or early voting site to register and vote. You will need to show a valid driver’s license or identification card issued by the Idaho Department of Motor Vehicles.
Voting by absentee ballot
You can request your absentee ballot on the Idaho Secretary of State's website. If you prefer to not request a ballot online you can print off this pdf and send it to your county clerk. An absentee ballot will then be mailed to you.
Once you have received your absentee ballot, you have until 8 p.m. on election day, Nov. 3, to get the ballot into the hands of county elections officials.
When you receive the ballot, it's important to fill it out, put it in the secrecy envelope, and then place it inside the ballot return envelope it came in. Once it's all in there, sign it and don't have someone else sign it with your name.
"We’re validating the signatures on the back of those envelopes to make sure it is the person voting who is casting that ballot," Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said. "Sometimes one of the issues we see is one spouse will sign the other spouse’s ballot and because those signatures don’t match we can’t actually accept those ballots."
Because of the sheer number of absentee ballots expected, you are discouraged from waiting until the last minute to send your ballot in. Officials say it's best to have the ballot in the mail at least a week before election day to ensure it gets there in time. If you're concerned that it is too late to mail your ballot, county clerks provide drop boxes outside there offices where you can hand-deliver it on election day.
In Ada County, drop boxes are being added to Kuna City Hall, Meridian City Hall, Eagle City Hall, and potentially Boise City Hall. There is also a drop box at the election's office.
Voting in person
If you prefer to cast your vote in person, you can do so at your usual polling place. If you are unsure of where your polling place is, you can look up that information by clicking or tapping here.
It's worth noting that due to the pandemic, some usual polling places may have changed locations. Because of the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, these changes could happen at any time, including on election day. You're encouraged to double-check your polling location before heading out the door to cast your vote.
Elections officials throughout the state are implementing enhanced safety measures at polling places to ensure a safe environment for voters and poll workers.
McGrane told KTVB that his staff has been working with Central District Health to determine all of the protocols that will be in place on Nov. 3.
"We were able to test those [safety measures] out during the August election," McGrane said. "So, we are cleaning things regularly. Poll workers will be wearing masks and are provided face shields as well. We have masks available for voters and we will be encouraging all voters to wear a mask.”
Voting booths will also be spaced out to allow for social distancing, and voters won't have to share the pencils used to fill out ballots.
"We are going to be providing pencils, we call them our commemorative pencils, so voters don’t have to share writing utensils if they don’t want to," McGrane said. "Voters can also bring their own. We are trying to kind of layer all the safety measures we can to fit the best practices.”
There will also be an alternative polling location for individuals who have an active case of COVID-19 on Election Day.
"There are going to be voters who find out that they have COVID right at the time of voting," McGrane said. "So, we’re working with CDH and we will be reaching out to those voters as they do contact tracing to let them know there is an alternative. We’re setting up a special location just for those people who are actively sick with COVID."
You can also largely avoid the crowds by voting in person ahead of election day. Early voting is offered by some counties, including Ada and Canyon counties, and runs from Oct. 19 until 5 p.m. on Oct. 30.
Are Idaho elections secure?
Idaho elections officials say that voter fraud is extremely rare and that state and local elections offices take a lot of precautions to prevent someone from changing the outcome of the election.
This includes absentee ballots, a term that is often used interchangeably with mail-in ballots. Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane explained during the all-mail-in primary election in May that Idaho differs from some other states in that it requires voters to request an absentee ballot - as opposed to simply mailing ballots to all registered voters.
"You have to take that extra step of requesting your ballot," he said. "We are then mailing it to that current address you provided,” McGrane said. “And then we have that back-end verification to make sure the person returning it is the same person who requested it.”
Idaho also has security systems in place to prevent fraud, like signature verification on every ballot sent through the mail.
When it comes to in-person voting, the Idaho Secretary of State's Office has taken precautions to keep elections secure, including using paper ballots and voting machines that are not connected to the internet.
Paper ballots create a verifiable paper trail that allows election officials to audit the machine tabulated results. Every tabulating machine is tested to verify the accuracy of the counts immediately before and after each election.
According to the Secretary of State's Office, one of the best ways to prevent voter fraud is for you to vote regularly and to update your voter registration information every time you move.
You can report any suspected voter fraud by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
What do the Idaho special session bills mean for voters?
During a special session in August, the Idaho Legislature passed two election-related bills which were then signed into law by Gov. Brad Little.
The bills affect only the November 2020 election and are intended smooth the voting process for both citizens and clerks' offices.
The first bill guarantees that there will be in-person voting options in November. What that will look like in each community is still being worked out and could remain fluid due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We are going to have some unique scenarios and some co-locations probably of polling locations in some counties," Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said. "So voters want to make sure to pay attention to where their polling location is."
“So the biggest thing [county clerks] are still going to be looking at is what do they have for both locations and poll workers," Houck added. "The biggest thing with locations is, especially in some of our smaller counties, do they have a location that allows them to meet the CDC guidelines and the social distancing guidelines that are out there while still accommodating their voters and accommodating the safety of their poll workers at that location?"
Houck said some counties may combine, or co-locate, two or more polling locations in a larger venue like a high school gymnasium in an effort to meet CDC guidelines for social distancing.
The other election-related bill passed during the special session gives county clerks more time to process the expected high volume of absentee ballots. Clerks will be allowed to start processing ballots one week before election day.
According to Houck, the extra time is for physical processing, not vote tabulation.
“We are not going to have vote counts early," he said. "What this means is simply they are able to, under review and with multiple people in the room so that we have that accountability factor, they are able to start opening those secrecy envelopes and get those ballots flattened out.
"That is especially important in those locations that are using scan tabulators," Houck added. "They want those ballots nice and flat. So if they came in folded they are going to put them under weights to flatten them out."
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