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House State Affairs Committee approves bill to limit absentee voting

by RUTH BROWN/Idaho Reports
| February 24, 2023 1:00 AM

The House State Affairs Committee introduced a bill in a 6-3 vote Thursday that would limit who can apply for an absentee ballot in Idaho.

The only people allowed to request an absentee ballot would be those in the military, disabled, hospitalized or infirmed, on a religious mission, or living in another state temporarily. People who are in school or unable to get away from work may also request an absentee.

Unexpected illness or vacation would not qualify as a reason for requesting an absentee ballot, as absentee ballots would need to be requested 11 days prior to Election Day.

Rep. Joe Alfieri, R-Coeur d’Alene, introduced the bill that would prohibit people from requesting an absentee ballot without cause. His previous bill on the subject, House Bill 75, was held and an exemption for people who live temporarily out of county was added to this new bill.

“What it comes down to is convenience,” Alfieri said. “People are using absentee ballots because it’s convenient. I would suggest they buy groceries and go out when necessary. Where does voting rank in your life? Is it only something you participate in when it’s convenient for you?”

The committee heard testimony from about 20 people, including Secretary of State Phil McGrane, in opposition to the bill. McGrane said the rate of voter fraud is extremely low, and he fears the bill would reduce the number of people who vote.

“I don’t believe the security of our elections and accessibility need to be in conflict with each other,” McGrane told the committee.

McGrane said the added cause for people temporarily out of state came from a good place, but he suspects it would disproportionately benefit people with vacation homes.

“Although I think intentions are pure, it does seem to benefit the wealthy,” McGrane said. “Not all of us have a second home.”

According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s data, Idaho voters cast 129,210 absentee ballots in the November general election. In the May primary election, voters cast 53,315 absentee ballots.

Several testifiers addressed rural areas that require transportation to get to local voting locations.

“This is one of the largest areas of voter fraud in the United States, and it’s incomprehensible to me that people won’t recognize that,” Lyle Johnstone said in support of the bill.

Lupe Wissel, state director of AARP of Idaho, testified in opposition. She said her members may not be sick, they may not have a disability, and they may not be hospitalized, but their comfort level is to vote absentee.

“Voting is every citizen’s right, and HB 75 places undo restrictions as to how to people can vote,” Wissel said. “The allowable provision to vote and how to vote by are, I believe, heavily restrictive and unwarranted. Many older Idahoans have earned the right to be free.”

Rep. Chris Allgood, R-Caldwell, Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, and Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, voted against the bill. It will move forward to the House floor for a vote.

This story was originally posted on the Idaho Reports blog on Feb. 23, 2023.