All information in this COVID-19 Response Resource issue is effective as of August 25, 2020.
Idaho’s 2020 Extraordinary Legislative Session kicked off on Mon., Aug. 24, with Bills being introduced that aim to make changes to some of Idaho’s election laws. Already, 250,000 registered Idaho voters have requested to vote absentee. County clerks expect that a majority of voters will vote absentee for November’s election during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As someone who is writing this while working as a poll worker for today’s West Ada School District levy election, I can anecdotally attest that even for a school district levy – which often will have a reduced voter turnout – the number of in-person voters at my assigned precinct appears to be low. And, as someone who filed a successful lawsuit on behalf of clients earlier this year to extend the deadline for voters to request ballots for the 2020 primary, due to issues with the Secretary of State’s website crashing days before the deadline, I was interested to see what changes were being considered and how any anticipated issues for the November elections were being handled.
Idaho has a great tradition of open, available and secure elections. As I learned in my poll worker training with Ada County Elections earlier this month, Idaho’s election laws provide for one of the most open and available voting systems in the country. The proposed changes introduced in yesterday’s legislative session are consistent with Idaho’s history of open elections. The changes are also aimed at giving county clerks a bit more flexibility to deal with the pandemic’s challenges.
First, Senate Bill 1001 would give county clerks 15 additional days to mail out ballots upon request by a voter – up to 30 days prior to the election rather than 45. The Bill would also temporarily change the law for 2020 to allow county clerks to begin physically opening and scanning ballots prior to election day in order to handle the increased volume of ballots. The ballots would not be immediately tabulated and no results would be announced until election day. On Monday, the Senate amended the original Bill to require specific security measures during the seven-day period that will elapse between opening ballots, scanning ballots and election day. This afternoon, this Bill passed House State Affairs unanimously. The Bill now heads to the full House for consideration.
Second, to allow for more social distancing at polling locations, reduce the number of poll workers required during the pandemic, and to give voters an alternative on election day, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane has proposed Bill S1002 to establish larger voting centers. Voters could vote at one, or one of multiple, large, central locations. The Bill would provide social distancing flexibility for voters at the polls as well allow any counties that are using electronic poll books to be handled at one large, centrally-located voting center. Federal funding would be available for the equipment needed to run the voting centers for counties who choose this option. A county must inform the Secretary of State within 30 days if it wishes to use voting centers. The legislation would apply to the November 2020 election, but would be void as of Dec. 31, 2020. Yesterday, this Bill passed in the Senate, but as of mid-day today, Aug. 25, the House committee voted 10-5 to hold the Bill in committee.
Third, Rep. Giddings has introduced House Bill 1 to require that all voters be permitted the opportunity to vote in person despite any emergency, extreme emergency or disaster emergency declared by the Governor. This Bill was printed on Monday and assigned to the House State Affairs Committee.
Amy Lombardo is an experienced trial attorney and shareholder at Parsons Behle & Latimer’s Boise office. For more information on this update or other election law issues, she can be contacted by calling 208.562.4900 or by sending an email to email@example.com.