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You might soon need an excuse to vote absentee in Idaho

A white ballot dropbox with a sticker that has the American flag and "Absentee Ballot Drop Box" on it.

The latest attempt to restrict absentee ballot voting in Idaho is headed to the House floor.

The House State Affairs Committee backed a bill Thursday that would only allow someone to vote absentee if they met one of several criteria in order to prevent election fraud.

That includes if someone is ill, on a religious mission or otherwise working when polls would be open. The latest version of this proposal also includes snowbirds who are Idaho residents, but who spend winters outside of the state at a second home.

Rep. Joe Alfieri (R-Coeur d’Alene), one of the bill’s sponsors, rejects the argument that voting should simply be a matter of convenience instead of more highly prioritizing our constitutional rights.

“So, we have to ask ourselves how important is it that we vote? How important is it that we preserve this republic?” Alfieri asked.

Still, he admitted it will be tough to monitor.

“Realistically, it’s not enforceable. We are asking for people to be honest about what they’re doing,” Alfieri said.

Any registered voter in Idaho has been able to vote by absentee ballot without an excuse since 1970.

Secretary of State Phil McGrane opposed the bill, saying the ideas of keeping elections both safe and convenient aren’t in conflict.

When McGrane served as Ada County Clerk, he said he only saw isolated incidents of fraud.

“I can attest that there are rare incidents when we do see voter fraud attempts through absentee ballots, but what’s really important is we catch them and we pursue them,” he said.

Audits performed after last year’s primary and general elections found just a handful of discrepancies from election night tallies.

Out of the 17 people who testified, just three supported the bill. AARP Idaho and the League of Women Voters of Idaho opposed it.

The Idaho Association of County Recorders and Clerk also opposed most of the bill, though the group said it would support one provision that would bar groups or political parties from prefilling information on the application.

Those arguments swayed Rep. Chris Allgoood (R-Caldwell), who joined both Democrats on the committee in opposing it.

“I also take a bit of offense that if you vote by absentee ballot, you’re less patriotic for some reason,” said Allgood. "That bugs me as well.”

Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa) also suggested amending the bill to address county clerks’ concerns, but he ultimately voted to send it to the House floor.

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

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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