Voters league gets behind permanent absentee status

BOISE – The Idaho League of Women Voters has endorsed an initiative petition to let Idahoans request permanent absentee ballot status, rather than have to request an absentee ballot every time there’s an election, a change that’s been supported in the past by the state’s county clerks but rejected by state lawmakers.

“The league has a long history of supporting voter registration and ballot access,” said Kathryn Bonzo, co-president of the Idaho League of Women Voters. “Permanent absentee balloting is a positive step forward for voters in Idaho.”

All 44 of the state’s county clerks backed legislation to make the change in 2007, but lawmakers didn’t pass the bill.

“The Idaho League supported the vote by mail bill sponsored by the county clerks,” co-president Susan Steele said. “We are endorsing the permanent absentee balloting initiative because it will make it easier for voters who need or want to vote by absentee ballot.”

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government.

The “Idaho Permanent Absentee Ballot Initiative” has qualified to collect signatures in an effort to get on the ballot, but if successful, voters wouldn’t see it until the 2012 election, as organizers have decided to take that long to gather the signatures.

At least four states, including Washington, allow voters to file no-excuses, permanent absentee ballot requests, though most Washington counties conduct all-mail voting. Voting by mail by sending in an absentee ballot has been gaining popularity both nationwide and in Idaho.

Kids flock to libraries

This past summer saw a big jump in participation in Idaho libraries’ summer reading programs for kids, which registered 63,300 children, 38 percent more than 2008.

“Every year we hope to see the numbers of children being reached by these valuable programs increase, but we were totally blown away by the numbers this year,” said Idaho Commission for Libraries summer reading coordinator Peggy McClendon. “We know more families may have stuck closer to home this year, but all the work librarians are doing with outreach to schools, day cares and other community partners is also really paying off. The outreach statistics show that libraries are reaching more low-income and underserved children than ever.”

Gift for a new college

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation announced last week that it’s giving $7.5 million to the College of Western Idaho, fulfilling an earlier pledge to give a total of $10 million to Idaho’s newest community college.

CWI opened this year in Canyon County, serving the Treasure Valley. Prior to its opening, there was no Idaho community college in the valley, which is the state’s largest population center and includes the state capital, Boise. Idaho’s other community colleges are North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.

In December of 2008, the Albertson foundation awarded CWI $2.5 million for startup costs, scholarships and business planning aimed at increasing community college access. Now, the rest of the pledge has been fulfilled. “Our goal from the start has been to increase access to high quality, affordable, comprehensive community college education in Idaho,” said Jamie MacMillan, the foundation’s executive director.

The Albertson Foundation, formed by the founders of the Albertsons grocery chain, is a private family foundation dedicated to improving education in Idaho.

It’s not just us

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa notes that the law that permits candidates for federal office to run as long as they’re a resident of the state they’ll represent on the day of the general election is the U.S. Constitution – and the rule applies in all states, not just Idaho. That’s why a New York resident, William Bryk, was able to file a declaration of candidacy for Idaho’s U.S. Senate seat to take on Mike Crapo in 2010, even though Bryk’s never been to Idaho.

Little launches campaign

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little launched his re-election bid last week with announcements and campaign fundraisers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls. “Government should only be there to protect and create opportunity for individuals and businesses, not stand in their way,” Little declared in Boise.

Gov. Butch Otter and other elected officials joined Little for his announcement; Otter said people who think he’s proposing budget cuts “without a heart” are wrong “since Brad took office as lieutenant governor, sitting at my side.” Otter, who appointed Little to the office, praised Little’s analyses and compassion as the state faces tough cuts, and urged his re-election. “It was up to me the first time – now it’s up to you,” he said.

Little said the state faces difficult decisions with budget cuts; he said he supports Otter’s move to cut costs now – including cuts in health benefits for part-time state employees – with hopes to increase state workers’ pay when times improve. “The timing’s terrible, but we’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to do between now and next February the timing’s going to be terrible on,” Little said. “We’re looking at some other ones that are going to have serious ramifications.”

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