| 03.18.2018

New bills proposed to improve Idaho voting


BOISE — State minority leaders will present five bills known as the Voting Opportunity and Trustworthy Elections Initiative, focused on improving common problems voters have during elections.

Sen. Elliot Werk from Idaho’s 17th District said  confusion about registration, party affiliation, voter identification requirements and ballots were among the problems during the last election that led to the VOTE initiative.

“The purpose of these bills is to ensure that every Idahoan has the opportunity to vote and to move Idaho’s elections process into the 21st century by taking advantage of technologies to include access to the ballot while protecting the integrity to our elections,” Werk said.

Werk said the first part of VOTE is called the Online Voter Registration Act, which would make Idaho work with counties to develop an online system for voters to register.

Rep. Mat Erpelding, from the 19th District, said initial startup costs would be significant when merging the online and paper registration fees, but eventually it would save Idaho time and money.

Erpelding said there is a difference in cost between online and paper registration. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported  online registration in Arizona  costs 3 cents, versus the 83 cents per paper registration.

He said the act will require initial expenditure by the Idaho Department of Transportation and Motor Vehicles to create a signature verification system that would be used to verify voters’ identity.

This initiative has been adopted in 15 other states.

Next, the Motor Voter Act includes giving voter registration documents to anyone seeking issuance, renewal or correction of a drivers license who is more than 18 years old. Werk said once registration materials are completed at the DMV, they will be sent to the proper county clerk.

The Motor Voter Act has counterparts in 46 other states.

Werk said during the 2012 primary election, Idaho allowed a political party to only allow members of their own party to vote in the primary election.

The Private Election Taxpayer Compensation Act would require political parties to reimburse counties for costs that increase during an election if the party denies any electors the opportunity to participate.

“Idaho Democrats and many of the citizens we spoke to during the recent election believe that it is not morally defensible to ask the citizens of our great state to pay for a private election,”  Werk said.

A similar act is in effect in South Carolina.

The Early Voting Opportunity Act would require counties to provide early voting centers for voters, operated at least five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 21 days before the election.

Werk said it would potentially cost anywhere between $5,000 and $7,500 to operate an early voting center. These funds would cover services such as personnel and placement.

Werk said counties with less than 25,000 in population would be required to operate at least one center. Counties with a population between 25,001 and 100,000 would be required to operate at least two early voting centers. Counties with more than 100,000 residents would require at least three centers.

Werk said Paris County, Texas operates 37 early voting centers.

The final bill of VOTE is the Voter Convenience Act, which was killed by the House State Affairs Committee.

“One of the reasons (it was killed) is people were concerned about the security,” said Rep. Holli Woodings from the 19th District. “So for counties that don’t have electronic elections access, making sure that ballots weren’t voted twice was the main concern.”

Werk said nine other states allow voting sectors.

“Counties recognize the need to improve access to elections, they understand that we can improve our systems,” Werk said.

Emily Johnson can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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