Bill introduced to limit who could vote by absentee ballot
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
House State Affairs introduced a bill Thursday that would limit the number of people eligible for an absentee ballot.
Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene, pitched the bill, saying the recent popularity of absentee ballots is detrimental to the voting process and opens the door to fraud. He did not cite any voter fraud in Idaho.
“What it does it does is it cheapens the voting process and makes it the equivalent of nothing more than filling out a warranty card for the latest microwave or television that you bought,” Alfieri said in committee. “Additionally, the cleaning of voter rolls has become a real problem.”
Should it pass, the only people eligible for an absentee ballot would be people in active service in the military, people with an illness, disability or hospitalization, an elector unable to be at the polls due to work or attending a university, or an elector out of the county on election day due to a religious mission.
The bill does not offer an exemption for people on extended vacations.
To apply for an absentee ballot, the elector would check a box regarding what qualifies them for the ballot. It is already a misdemeanor crime to provide false information to a government clerk, so individuals could be punished if they falsely apply for an absentee ballot.
According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s data, Idaho voters cast 129,210 absentee ballots in the November general election. In the May primary election, 53,315 votes were cast through absentee and mail ballots.
Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, asked Alfieri about voters who were unexpectedly sick, and he acknowledged that they would be unable to vote.
Early voting would still be allowed in Idaho counties, which generally is available 14 to 30 days before Election Day, depending on the county.
“This does seem like if enacted, it would deter voting and result in voting suppression,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise.
Gannon also argued that absentee ballots allow voters to study and look up give them time to decide who they want to vote for on longer ballots. Rep. Kevin Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, said voters could still do that with a sample ballot online and take it to the polls with them.
Rep. Chris Allgood, R-Caldwell, said in his county, Canyon County, the clerk encourages absentee ballots to help ease long lines on Election Day.
“I was curious if that had been a concern of (clerks) if we eliminate that process or reduce that process,” Allgood asked.
Alfieri said he’s had differing opinions on it from different clerks.
“My hope is that we will reduce the number of absentee ballots, which hopefully will make the clerks’ job a little bit easier,” Alfieri said.
The bill must still get a full public hearing before moving forward.