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2020 could be one of the most consequential and unusual elections in American history. And now the time has come to cast a ballot, but how? And when? Boise State Public Radio is here to bring you the latest news and information you need to cast your vote in Idaho.

Idaho Election FAQs: When Do Absentee Ballots Go Out? When Does Early Voting Begin?

Ada County's mobile voting truck
Katherine Jones, Idaho Statesman

The marathon that is the 2020 Presidential Election is now down to a matter of weeks. But with so much chatter surrounding what many consider to be the most important election in generations, a number of basic questions remain regarding the actual election process, including absentee balloting, early voting and recruitment of poll workers.

Phil McGrane, Ada County Clerk and the man who oversees Idaho's largest election operation, visits with George Prentice to share some important dates and must-know election protocols in the Gem State's most popoulous county.

“Absentee ballots for most voters will start going out on September 30th. And so, people should start to see them in their mailboxes on October 3rd or October 5th, right around that weekend.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice.

The number one topic of conversation this week will most likely be the most talked about topic next week and… well, for the next seven weeks: the election.

So, let's get some straight talk from Phil McGrane, Ada County Clerk and the man who oversees the largest election operation in Idaho. Phil McGrane, good morning.

PHIL MCGRANE: Good morning, George. And to add to that, it's 47 days to Election Day; so we're working hard, getting ready for it.

PRENTICE: Well, let's get right to it. Absentee ballots - when do they start going out?

MCGRANE: Absentee ballots for most voters will start going out on September 30th. And so, people should start to see them in their mailboxes on October 3rd or October 5th, right around that weekend.

PRENTICE: I know that every precinct might have a different ballot. But can you give us a sense of how big this year's ballot might be?

MCGRANE: Obviously, the president is the main focus for a lot of things where people pay attention’ but there will be numerous other races on the ballot and will actually spill over onto two pages. One of the things we have is a constitutional amendment this year, and that's one of the main causes to spill beyond just the one single page into the second page for all voters.

PRENTICE: When does early voting start?

MCGRANE: Early voting will begin on October 13th, right after the Columbus Day holiday. And then, we'll have three weeks of early voting leading up to Election Day.

PRENTICE: Might you have more early voting sites than in past years?

MCGRANE: We are trying to work on an additional site, so we typically have Meridian City Hall, Boise City Hall and our Benjamín Elections Office. Due to COVID, we're making a few changes. We may change the downtown location to provide more space for voting. And we're working to see if we can get one out in the Eagle area in terms of our permanent locations. But as you know, George, we will also be having our mobile voting unit out, hitting some of the other areas for the three weeks, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to vote early if they choose.

PRENTICE: Poll workers is such a big topic. I’m assuming you're recruiting … by the way, do they get paid?

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Early voting booths in Ada County

MCGRANE: Poll workers do get paid. And this year we're actually adding a little incentive due to some of the risks related to coronavirus. But it's interesting: I think we were concerned, early on, that we might not have enough poll workers. We've actually been overwhelmed by the response of people submitting applications, wanting to work at the polls. So, we have well more than enough poll workers at this point. I believe Canyon County is still recruiting folks, and we'll be working with them. I think one of the most interesting things out of our recruitment this year is that we've even received applications from a handful of folks out of the Seattle area, saying that they're willing to drive here to Boise to make sure they can help keep the polls open, because in Washington they vote by mail and don't have polling locations to work at. So, we're seeing a lot of interesting things about this election.

PRENTICE: That said, traditionally you have asked poll workers to be registered Idaho voters. Yes?

MCGRANE: Correct. We typically try to have registered voters and try to keep them in their area, in their neighborhood, to the best extent we can. I think the best situation is when we have people in a community, say a part of a neighborhood association, who are running the polls for their neighbors because there is kind of a communal aspect in Election Day voting. And to the extent we can, we try to maintain that.

PRENTICE: For the record, will you be able to open, and possibly begin counting absentee ballots before Election Day?

MCGRANE: Yes, there were a few changes. The Idaho Legislature had the special session, and I was right in the thick of that, asking for some changes for this November’s election. And so, part of that is when we're mailing out the absentee ballots, there’s a reflection of those changes. We will begin opening the ballots up to seven days in advance and start to scan them as well. We won't count any of the results until the polls close on November 3rd, but we will be doing a lot of that work on the front end. I think it's going to pay off well for the state of Idaho. I do anticipate that everyone should have results for all of the races here in the state by Wednesday morning, which will be great as I think the some other parts of the country may see some delays that haven't adapted to the circumstance.

PRENTICE: I think a good many states are telling us that it could take days.

MCGRANE: Yeah, it was going to take time, no matter what for us. It would have taken as much as a week afterwards, but the legislature was willing to accommodate to give us the additional time needed to handle the really unprecedented volume of absentees. The first mailing that we'll be doing on September 30th, we will mail more absentees in that one mailing than we've ever mailed for an entire election before.

PRENTICE: He Is Phil McCrane, Ada County Clerk, the man who oversees the largest election operation in Idaho. Phil, we will be talking in the coming weeks. In the meantime, best of luck to you and your colleagues.

MCGRANE: Thank you, George. I look forward to catching up as we go throughout this process.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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