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Idaho lawmakers sort through dozens of election-related bills

Courtesy of Nez Perce County clerk
Idaho legislators propose changes in a variety of election-related areas.

Some observers are urging lawmakers to study the election system first before rushing in to make changes.

The 2020 presidential election and allegations of voter fraud have made quite an impression on Idaho legislators. One lobbyist told a Senate committee on Friday that lawmakers are juggling 64 election-related bills as they head into the final two weeks of the 2022 session.

The aim of many of them is to make elections in Idaho more secure. One bill would require people to prove they’re U.S. citizens before they’re allowed to register and cast ballots. It’s sponsored by Sen. Mary Souza [R-Coeur d'Alene].

“There are ways we can make our voter I.D. requirements in Idaho consistent, predictable and trusted and that’s what this does," she said.

Souza’s bill would also require someone to vote in person at least once before they can register to vote absentee. And it says those who do vote absentee must return their ballot via mail or hand it directly to a county election official. No option for dropping it in a ballot mail box, like those routinely used in Washington. At least one bill proposes to outlaw those in Idaho.

Sponsors of some of the bills have received push back from organizations such as the League of Women Voters that question the need for some of the legislation. There are no allegations of widespread fraud or ballot harvesting in Idaho, they say.

In the case of Souza’s bill, the League opposed it and so did Kathy Ackerman, the Idaho County clerk in Grangeville. On Friday she spoke on behalf of the Idaho Association of County Recorders and Clerks. Ackerman said several provisions within the bill would be difficult to administer.

“Subsection seven of this code places a ridiculous burden on county election staff by requiring that if a person who is homebound registers electronically, we’re to go to their residence to verify their proof of citizenship," she said. "The message here seems to be we don’t trust Idaho voters and we don’t trust them so much that we’re going to send someone to their house. I’m not certain that that’s going to play out well among Idahoans.”

The association’s lobbyist, Blake Youde, was the man who cited the 64 active elections bills.

"That creates a lot of cross purpose and confusion, different effective dates. There are many in the same section and code but they’re doing different things, things like that. If we really need to re-examine Idaho’s voter and election laws in their totality, then doing a systematic, strategic approach during the interim with all the stakeholder groups involved seems to be the most coordinated way to do that," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder voted to send Souza’s bill to the Senate floor so it could be amended and debated. But he cautioned his colleague about how it might be perceived by the public.

“How do you message this in such a way that you aren’t scaring every citizen in Idaho or that the clerks aren’t getting a bum rap for something that didn’t happen," he said.

By a five-to-four vote, Souza’s bill failed to get the endorsement it needed to go to the Senate floor. No word yet if it’s dead for the session.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.