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Group seeks injunction to halt Idaho voter registration law

by CLARK CORBIN / Idaho Capital Sun
| July 15, 2023 1:00 AM

A new Idaho voter registration law that took effect July 1 requires voters to prove their identity and residency when registering to vote, no matter how they register.

The law, House Bill 340, is designed to standardize voter registration procedures across the state so that the requirements are the same for registering to vote in person on Election Day as they are for filling out a voter registration card at a summer event or registering online, said Secretary of State Phil McGrane, who sponsored the law.

But a Boise-based youth voter advocacy group called Babe Vote announced less than a week after the new law took effect that it was suspending voter registration efforts and filed a motion in Ada County District Court seeking an injunction to halt enforcement of the new law.

Volunteer leaders with Babe Vote said the new law’s requirements make it especially difficult to register students and people without a driver’s license to vote. The requirement to prove residency also makes it more difficult to register seniors, people with disabilities, people without a vehicle and homeless people, they said.

What does the new Idaho voter registration law require?

Under the law, people who have a current Idaho driver’s license with their current address can use that to prove both their identity and their residency to register to vote, said Chelsea Carattini, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office. People in that situation likely won’t notice many changes under the new law. The Idaho Secretary of State’s Office is able to use the Idaho Transportation Department’s database to verify a voter’s addresses electronically.

But people who don’t have a driver’s license or people who have moved without updating their address with the state will experience changes under the new law, particularly if they register online or by filling out a voter registration card.

Under the new law, voters who fill out a voter registration card or register online but cannot prove their residency will not be issued a ballot and cannot vote until they follow up to do so. The voter registration system is designed so that voters will automatically receive a letter reminding them they are not registered to vote until they provide documents to prove their residency, McGrane said.

To prove their residency, voters may update their driver’s license records with the state or visit their local county clerk’s office to provide one of the accepted documents for proof of residency, McGrane said. Voters also may wait until Election Day and then provide their proof of residency documents when they check in to vote at their polling place, McGrane said.

Babe Vote volunteer leaders said they registered hundreds of new voters at public events across Idaho in June but struggled to register most voters during July 4 celebrations in Idaho Falls after the new law took effect.

“The only thing worse than being unregistered to vote is thinking you are registered to vote, when you aren’t,” Saumya Sarin, a student leader with Babe Vote, said in a written statement. “For that reason, we are suspending all voter registration efforts across the state until further notice.”

The Secretary of State’s Office’s website was also down in early July, which prevented online registrations during July 4 celebrations, McGrane said, but the site has gone back online since.

The new law is meant to make all voter registration procedures the same as they had been for same-day voter registration on Election Day at the polls, where voters had to provide documents proving both their identity and residency, McGrane said.

Before the new law, voter registration policies and practices varied by county and how voters registered.

“It was a little inconsistent,” Carattini said.

“Previous to this if you filled out a registration card, we didn’t always get the proof of residence,” she added. “This bill makes it consistent so no matter which way you register to vote it’s going to be the same. It makes it easy for poll workers; it makes it easy for election staff. It’s the same across the board.”

In the two weeks since the law went into effect, Bonneville County Clerk Penny Manning and Elections Supervisor Helena Welling said they haven’t experienced any problems registering voters. Bonneville County voters have been able to register in person at their office and online since the new law took effect, Manning and Welling said in a telephone interview.

They also said the system to verify voters' addresses through the Idaho Transportation Department database worked without any issues.

Even before it was in law, it was the longtime policy in Bonneville County for voters who register at polling places to prove both their identity and residency, Manning said.

“A lot of people when they come in are expecting to be showing a photo ID, and a lot of times they come prepared with something to prove their residency as well,” Welling said. “People are always expecting us to ask for some kind of proof.”

Free ID cards available to Idaho adults without driver’s licenses

The new law also creates a new no-fee ID card offered by the Idaho Transportation Department for people age 18 and older who have not had a driver’s license in the previous six months. That no-fee ID card will be accepted for voter registration and voting requirements.

During the 2023 session, the Idaho Legislature also passed a different law, House Bill 124, that removes student IDs from the list of accepted forms of ID for voting. Babe Vote and a group called March for our Lives Idaho have filed suit challenging the student ID law, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported.

Sam Sandmire, a board member with Babe Vote, said the new voter registration law and the removal of student IDs make it significantly harder for many people to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

“This is extremely frustrating,” Sandmire said in a telephone interview. “Idaho citizens should be encouraged to register to vote, but this has created so many barriers to registering that volunteers who are registering voters are putting it on hold.”

Idahoans may visit the Idaho Secretary of State’s elections website to check to see if they are registered to vote, register, request an absentee ballot or check the location of their polling place.