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Idaho Lawmakers Look to Streamline Early Voting

“Ada County has grown 33 percent while our election costs have grown 313 percent.”



By all accounts, early voting leading up to the November 2012 election was successful--maybe a bit too successful.

Following what officials called "unprecedented" numbers of early voters, Ada County elections supervisors had to call in extra workers.

"We had to hire 90 extra people just to open the envelopes," said Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane. "And even that wasn't enough people to open more than 100,000 envelopes in a timely fashion."

Canyon County faced the same dilemma.

"We needed to hire 60 additional people and had to buy another high-speed envelope opener," said Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto. "When I noticed a long line of early voters, I tried to explain to them the two-envelope system, and some of the voters told me that it was ridiculous."

The Idaho Secretary of State's Office wants to change the early voting process to make the lives of McGrane, Yamamoto and, most importantly, voters a bit easier.

"We're looking to make the early voting procedure the same as we use on Election Day," said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst, who introduced proposed changes Feb. 18 to the Idaho House State Affairs Committee. "Under these changes, early voters would state their name, sign a poll book and cast their ballot."

McGrane said 2012's early voting procedure requiring citizens to fill out an early voting application, seal a ballot in a signed envelope, and then place that envelope into a second envelope was cumbersome, at best.

"Ada County's population has grown 33 percent while our election costs have grown 313 percent," said McGrane. "We need to reduce the complexity of voting so that the accuracy and integrity of voting is maintained."

McGrane said newly elected Ada County Commissioner Jim Tibbs was one of those early voters who struggled with the system.

"You may not know that he has one arm, and it was a significant challenge in all of the folding and all of the envelopes," said McGrane, who added that votes could be counted much faster by not having to deal with folded ballots.

The proposed streamlined process--House Bill 107--easily passed through the House committee with a "do pass" recommendation for the full House. The bill still requires consideration by the Idaho Senate.

"Our office has received a number of letters and calls from voters," said Hurst. They're unhappy with the long lines at early voting."


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