I am visually impaired and have had a love-hate relationship with the voting process. Like many, I felt excluded. Recent proposals to change who is eligible to vote and how ballots are collected revive these feelings.
I cried the first time I voted by myself. The accessible machine scanned my paper ballot, read the information and marked my responses. Thanks to the Help America Vote Act, I no longer needed to rely on others to read a ballot and to respond on my behalf.
Life changed in 2020 when I chose to use an absentee ballot rather than brave the pandemic and vote in a public place. The experience of having access, then relying on a sighted reader to mark my ballot emphasized the need to provide many options when it comes to voting. Some love the experience of meeting neighbors at the voting booth. Others, with physical disabilities, busy work schedules, unreliable transportation or small children, appreciate voting at home. The nearly universal use of absentee ballots during the last election led to record voter participation. Let’s build on that success and not turn away from the challenge increased participation brings.
Idaho needs to increase voting options, not reduce access. Some Republican legislators believe that the integrity of Idaho’s elections is under threat. The conservative Heritage Foundation publishes information showing that Idaho has only had 10 voter fraud convictions since 1979. Yet these officials choose to respond by introducing proposals that deserve opposition. One bill would make it a felony for anyone but a family member to deliver an absentee ballot. If this bill passes, my neighbor who reads, marks or transports my ballot will be a criminal? Get real.
Data from 2020 indicate that 1,082,417 Idaho residents are of voting age, and 81% are registered. Our systems to validate and protect the integrity of elections are well designed. So, why restrict options now?
Only about two-thirds of Idaho residents cast a ballot in the most recent election. Many feel disconnected. Increasing participation in voting is sometimes difficult, time-consuming and costly. Yet the effort will create a more engaged population. Here are some ideas:
— Provide the ability when engaging with government services, such as when you get or renew your driver’s license, to register automatically.
— Preregister 16- and 17-year-olds, and increase education about the importance of casting a ballot.
— Ensure voting is accessible to all despite disability or language barriers.
— Continue no-excuse absentee voting.
— Continue to allow alternate forms of identification. Educate college students about voter rights and responsibilities.
Our republic works best when all parts of the community have a stake in elections. Our leaders must embrace the challenge of increasing participation for all groups within Idaho and reject the false narrative that our election system lacks integrity.