Update 7/11/2023: The online voter registration tool at voteidaho.gov is back online and includes notification of proof of residency requirements implemented by HB 340.
by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
A new Idaho law requiring proof of residency to register to vote took effect on July 1, and two local organizations have suspended their voter registration efforts in response – and are filing legal action to stop enforcement of the law.
BABE VOTE and the League of Women Voters of Idaho confirmed to Idaho Reports that they are filing to request a preliminary injunction to block implementation of House Bill 340, which revised proof of identity and residency requirements for voter registration.
“Our past voting system worked for people. It was easy to use, and voter fraud was rare. It was a great balance. The balance has been thrown off,” Kendal Shaber with the League of Women Voters of Idaho told Idaho Reports.
“It’s not just a matter of handing somebody a registration card. That is one tiny part,” Shaber said, “The rest of it is helping people understand the system – and if we don’t understand the new registration system, we can’t educate other people.”
In February, Secretary of State Phil McGrane told Idaho Reports that the bill was intended to address a disconnect between the requirements to vote and the requirements to register to vote, and to clean up the registration process.
“It provides common standards, regardless of what form you register. Right now, the law is broken up by different methods of registering to vote, and we’re trying to standardize that,” McGrane said.
Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, a sponsor of the bill, said during the session that lack of standards sometimes led to confusion among poll workers. He also shared anecdotes of University of Idaho students using Amazon delivery boxes to prove their address at the polls.
The new law creates a standard list of documents that can be used to verify residency, and it allows Idahoans to obtain an ID card at no cost for voting purposes. It also incorporated the residency and identity requirements into the various versions of the registration process.
“Secretary McGrane pushed this bill as a way to shore up inconsistencies in Idaho’s voter registration process. Instead the bill has made it virtually impossible to register new voters anywhere but the DMV, especially right now since the website is down,” BABE VOTE spokesperson and College of Idaho sophomore Saumya Sarin said in a Thursday press release.
BABE VOTE organizer Sam Sandmire told Idaho Reports that volunteers registered about 100 new voters at Idaho Falls Pride just before HB 340 took effect. On July 4th at the Riverfest celebration, however, they discovered the voter registration tool on the Idaho Secretary of State’s website has been taken offline until July 10.
“There were thousands of people there – more than the June 24th festival – and they had so much difficulty trying to get people registered that BABE VOTE has determined it’s not worth continuing with our voter registration efforts at this time,” Sandmire said on Wednesday.
Without the online tool, Sandmire said, volunteers fell back on paper voter registration forms like they usually do, but the people they talked to were “disappointed and frustrated that they had to take an additional step” to prove their residency and make sure their voter registration took effect.
“[Until July 1,] BABE VOTE would take all the registration cards that were filled out to the county clerk’s office and turn them in, and then the county clerks would register them unless there was an issue. So now, BABE VOTE turns in the cards and people aren’t registered,” Sandmire said. “That’s voter suppression.”
Shaber told Idaho Reports that the League of Women Voters of Idaho has paused their voter registration efforts because there are so many questions about the new requirements that county clerks were unable to answer for them.
“The accuracy of our information is the coin of the realm,” Shaber said. “Part of our mission is voter education, and we just don’t have the information to educate voters right now.”
Idaho Secretary of State communications director Chelsea Carattini on Wednesday told Idaho Reports that the online voter registration tool has been taken offline temporarily while the office implements residency verification with the Idaho Transportation Department in the backend of the system.
“For an organization that is conducting a registration drive, they can still collect those registration cards as before. However, the voter system that we have on the other end will flag that voter if we have not validated their identification or proof of residence,” Carattini said.
Voters will not be penalized or have their registration cancelled if they submitted a registration card but did not provide proof of residency along with it, Carattini said. However, the voter registry system still needed updating to be able to reflect the new requirements.
“Technically, their registration would not be complete, but that wouldn’t become an issue until they visited the polling place,” Carattini said, where they would be asked for the missing documentation.
That reassurance from the Secretary of State’s Office hasn’t been enough to address the organizations’ concerns. They argued that an incomplete or pending registration could affect far more than just people who will show up at the polls to vote and need to provide more documentation.
“Some of these people that we see in care facilities haven’t had a current ID in years, because they haven’t driven in years,” Shaber said. “Many of them rely on absentee balloting, and before, we would give them a registration card and an absentee ballot request form at the same time… With the new laws, they’re going to somehow have to get to a DMV to get a current ID before they can even get an absentee ballot, or even submit their absentee ballot request form.”
Some volunteers also collect signatures for ballot initiative petitions while registering people to vote. The event page for the BABE VOTE voter drive in Idaho Falls included the possibility that volunteers may be able to collect signatures for the Open Primary Initiative at the event. (The open primaries coalition has not begun collecting signatures yet because they are filing a lawsuit challenging the titles assigned to the initiative by the Idaho Attorney General.)
“People will think they’re registered and then – because they haven’t shown proof of residency – they won’t officially be registered, so their signature won’t count. It could seriously affect validation rates of petitions that groups who are trying to get initiatives on the ballot take around to get signatures,” Sandmire said.
The Secretary of State’s Office declined to comment on any pending litigation.
Editor’s note: The League of Women Voters of Idaho is a partner for The Idaho Debates, which Idaho Public Television produces and airs.
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.