November 10, 2009 in Opinion

Editorial: Petition gives Idaho voters what they want

 

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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Mail-in voting has become popular in the states that have adopted it, despite the lag times in tabulating ballots and posting final election results. Voters have made it clear that the convenience of voting by mail outweighs any drawbacks. But legislative leaders in Boise haven’t warmed to the idea of change, so voters have to put up with more hassles.

One of the more inexcusable hurdles is forcing voters who want an absentee ballot to formally request one before each election. That could mean multiple requests in a single year. When voters ask why they can’t be given permanent absentee status, county clerks don’t have a reasonable justification.

“It’s the law” is about all they can say.

An initiative effort launched by Idaho Vote By Mail could change that. The organization hopes to gather the 51,712 signatures needed to put permanent absentee voting on the ballot for November 2012, which is a presidential election year, which promises a higher turnout. If it became law, then voters would only have to make a single request to automatically receive an absentee ballot for every election. The League of Women Voters of Idaho recently endorsed it.

It would be a lot easier to shift to an all mail-in system like those in Oregon and some Washington counties, including Spokane, but legislative leaders smothered that option during the 2007 session. A bill that had passed out of committee and appeared to have popular support was yanked back by the chairman over vague concerns about the possibility of voter fraud and secrecy breaches.

The same worries were also voiced in Oregon and Washington, but those issues haven’t arisen. Besides, if Idaho lawmakers were really concerned about mailed ballots, they wouldn’t allow any form of absentee voting.

The unspoken concern is that political leaders are reluctant to change a system that got them elected. Permanent absentee voting makes them nervous, because voters will increasingly choose that option. Once they do, then a complete switch to mail-in voting is inevitable.

Well, it is anyway.

This is what voters want. It increases access and lowers election costs. All 44 of Idaho’s county clerks support it.

It’s a shame legislative leaders pulled the 2007 bill, because that would have been the cleaner way to make the switch. But at least voters can now be heard by signing the petition.


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