Eye On Boise

Idaho Vote By Mail drops initiative

Idaho Vote By Mail has called off its signature-gathering effort to get an initiative on the 2012 ballot giving Idahoans the option of permanently requesting an absentee ballot, saying it just hasn't been able to gather the required thousands of signatures using volunteers. "We needed 51,000 signatures, and I could just tell from the way we were going that we weren't going to meet the mark," said Larry Grant, a former Democratic congressional candidate from Fruitland who led the effort. "I didn't want people working on it for another couple months knowing we weren't going to make it. 51,000 is a lot of signatures."

The group had gathered fewer than 10,000, though it'd been working at it for a year, and had volunteers out at county fairs, farmers markets and the like; the deadline is February 2011. "Most folks I believe are supportive of it, but actually getting volunteers to go gather signatures and do the necessary work is a little more difficult," Grant said.

Interest in voting by mail in Idaho has been growing strongly over the years, with 29.5 percent of Idaho's votes cast by absentee ballot in 2008 - 35.4 percent in Kootenai County and 43.5 percent in Ada County. Ada County sent absentee ballot requests to every voter that year, after the previous election resulted in long lines, angry voters and polls that had to stay open long after closing time to accommodate everyone. At least four states, including Washington, allow voters to file no-excuses, permanent absentee ballot requests, but in Idaho, voters have to file a new request every election.

The Idaho Legislature has been hostile to any moves toward allowing more mail-in voting, repeatedly killing bills before they come to a vote in the full House. Grant said he's hearing that House GOP leaders may try to restrict absentee voting further next year, possibly preventing absentee voting unless people give a valid excuse, such as that they'll be out of town.

Early voting, in which voters go to a central county polling location and cast an absentee ballot in the weeks prior to Election Day, opened on Monday, and in Ada County, 400 people voted the first day. Idaho's county clerks, who run elections, have been supportive of more mail-in voting, as has GOP Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, the state's chief election official.

Grant said his hope was that the excitement of an election year would generate volunteers to gather signatures for the permanent absentee-ballot option initiative, but instead, he found that volunteers were busy working for candidates. "We may revive it next cycle," he said. "We'll see what happens."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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