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Idaho Clerks Urge Special Legislative Session Ahead Of November Election

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

It’s not just lawmakers on the right who were less than thrilled with the governor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic over the past few months who are calling on Gov. Brad Little to order a special legislative session.

County clerks, who run elections across Idaho, proposed several bills Monday to a legislative committee that they say need to be acted on soon.

One would allow counties to consolidate smaller precincts into larger voting centers. Another would let clerks scan absentee ballots a week before Election Day so they’re not scrambling to upload results that night.

For example, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said his office collected 16,000 ballots on the last day to turn them in for the May primary, adding to the backlog his staff wasn’t allowed to count for weeks.

“No matter what, it’s going to take the same amount of time and work. It’s just a question of: do you do that beforehand so you can have results election night, or do you do it afterwards so you have results days after the election?”

Under that proposal, no running tally would be kept until Election Day.

Clerks say these changes would need to be made by September so they have time to prepare for November’s general election.

It’s unclear whether there will be in-person voting for that election later this year. Requests for absentee ballots remain high, according to McGrane, as cases of COVID-19 have exploded far beyond what was reported. predicted? 

Only the governor can call the legislature back into session – something lawmakers want to change next year through a constitutional amendment.

Such a proposal was presented to the committee by one of its co-chairs, Rep. Steven Harris (R-Meridian). In order to authorize a special legislative session, a simple majority of both the House and Senate would just need to make a request to their respective legislative leaders.

Harris’s proposal doesn’t add any time limits on how long a special session would be allowed to meet, or limit discussions to a set of topics.

Another bill floated by House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks (R-Nampa) would block any governor from altering state law during a declared emergency. For example, Little moved the date of the May primary, as well as changed it to an all-absentee election -- something that wouldn’t be allowed under the proposal.

Some lawmakers said that could hamstring a future governor’s ability to react in a crisis and suggested that mandating a special legislative session after issuing an emergency declaration could help solve that problem.

No action was taken by the committee, which will next meet in August.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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