The Idaho House state affairs committee introduced a bill in a 6-3 vote Feb. 23 that would limit who can apply for an absentee ballot.
It would restrict absentee requests to people in the military, in a hospital or infirmed, with disabilities, away on a religious mission, temporarily living in another state, in school or unable to get away from work.
Unexpected illness or vacation would not qualify as a reason for requesting an absentee ballot, as absentee ballots would need to be requested 11 days prior to Election Day.
Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene, introduced the bill.
“What it comes down to is convenience,” Alfieri said. “People are using absentee ballots because it’s convenient. I would suggest they buy groceries and go out when necessary. Where does voting rank in your life? Is it only something you participate in when it’s convenient for you?”
The committee heard testimony from about 20 people, including Secretary of State Phil McGrane, in opposition to the bill. McGrane said voter fraud is rare and he fears the bill would reduce the number of people who vote.
“I don’t believe the security of our elections and accessibility need to be in conflict with each other,” McGrane told the committee. McGrane said the added clause for people temporarily out of state came from a good place, but he suspects it would disproportionately benefit people with vacation homes.
“Although I think intentions are pure, it does seem to benefit the wealthy,” McGrane said. “Not all of us have a second home.”
According to data from the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, there were 129,210 absentee ballots cast in the November 2022 general election. In the May 2022 primary election, 53,315 absentee ballots were cast.
“This is one of the largest areas of voter fraud in the United States, and it’s incomprehensible to me that people won’t recognize that,” Lyle Johnstone said in support of the bill.
Lupe Wissel, state director of AARP of Idaho, testified in opposition. She said her members may not be sick, they may not have a disability, and they may not be hospitalized, but their comfort level is to vote absentee.
“Voting is every citizen’s right, and HB 75 places undue restrictions as to how to people can vote,” Wissel said. “The allowable provision to vote and how to vote by are, I believe, heavily restrictive and unwarranted. Many older Idahoans have earned the right to be free.”
Rep. Chris Allgood, R-Caldwell, Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, and Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, voted against the bill. It now moves to the House floor for a vote.
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