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Eye On Boise

House, Senate Dems propose voting rights bills

Idaho Senate and House Democrats announce a five-bill package of voting rights legislation on Tuesday (Betsy Russell)
Idaho Senate and House Democrats announce a five-bill package of voting rights legislation on Tuesday (Betsy Russell)

House and Senate Democrats unveiled a five-bill package of legislation this morning aimed at enhancing voting rights, from allowing online voter registration – something they said 15 states already have – to, like most other states, adopting a “Motor Voter” law requiring voter registration materials  to be provided to anyone 18 or older who does business at the Department of Motor Vehicles. “The purpose of these bills is to ensure that every Idahoan has the opportunity to vote, and to move Idaho’s election process into the 21stCentury by taking advantage of technology to improve access to the ballot while protecting the integrity of the elections,” said Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise.

However, even as the Democrats gathered at a Statehouse press conference to announce the bills, the House State Affairs Committee was rejecting one of them. The panel refused to introduce the “Voter Convenience Act,” which was presented by Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and would have required Idaho counties to set up at least one full-service polling place that allows election-day voting and voter registration for any voter in the county. Republicans on the panel expressed concerns about security, said Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise,  “that voters weren’t able to vote twice, that was the main concern.” The bill sought to allow voters the option of voting near their workplace, at a centralized voting location, if they can’t make it to their polling place during voting hours on Election Day.

One of the measures, HB 59, would require a political party to pay election costs if its election is only open to party members. "We don't believe that the taxpayers should be paying for an election that they aren't invited to participate in," Werk said.

Werk said voting rights aren’t a partisan issue. “We invite our Republican colleagues … to work with us for the general welfare of the people of the state of Idaho,” he said. “The rights and priveleges granted to us in the United States and Idaho constitutions are not partisan, they belong to the people.”

Click below for a list of the five bills the Dems are proposing.

- Online Voter Registration Act: Pending possible print hearing in the House State Affairs Committee. Would require the state to work with counties to develop a secure online process for voter registration; the Dems said 15 other states have that.

- Motor Voter Act: Introduced last week by the House State Affairs Committee, HB 60, sponsored by Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, and Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise; 46 other states have this, the Dems said.

- Private Election Taxpayer Compensation Act: Introduced as a personal bill by House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston; HB 59 would require any political party that does not allow all electors to participate in its primary election to reimburse counties for that election’s incremental costs. One other state has enacted this, the Democrats said.

- Early Voting Opportunity Act: Would require counties with populations of between 25,000 and 100,000 to provide at least two geographically distributed early voting centers, and counties with more than 100,000 population to provide at least three. All would have to open at least 21 days before the election and be open at least from 8-5, five days a week, to ease early voting for residents. The Democrats said multiple early voting centers "are the norm in many other states."

- Voter Convenience Act: This is the measure rejected in House State Affairs this morning. Sought to allow voters the option of voting near their workplace, at a centralized voting location, like nine other states.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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