Kootenai County’s clerk has eliminated absentee voting at satellite locations in city halls, a move one Coeur d’Alene city councilman said limits choices despite the elections office receiving additional state money to handle elections for all taxing districts.
Clerk Cliff Hayes said staffing each satellite location with elections workers for two weeks would cost about $30,000. Instead, he’s encouraging people to vote by mail and will pay the return postage for voters who choose that option. Absentee voting still will be allowed in person at the county’s elections office, 1808 N. Third St., starting Oct. 17.
The Kootenai County elections office received an additional $221,000 in state funds following passage of a law requiring counties to handle elections for all taxing districts.
Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Mike Kennedy said voting options should be expanded, not scaled back, with the additional money. Cutting the satellite locations, he said, reduces access and may cause some people not to vote at all.
“There are senior citizens and working people in my city who have used City Hall to vote for a very long time, and this service is being taken away from them,” Kennedy said in an email to Hayes.
But Chief Deputy Clerk Pat Raffee said because the elections office now handles elections for all 44 taxing districts, it has the responsibility to treat them all the same. That means if absentee voting is allowed on location in some city halls, as it has been in the past, the same accommodation should be made for other taxing districts. And paying two part-time workers to handle absentee voting in multiple locations for two weeks would not be cost effective, Raffee said.
“We can’t favor a few cities and not offer the same service to the highway districts, the school districts, the fire districts,” Raffee said. “The property taxpayers are giving us a consistent message of – do more with less.”
Raffee said by cutting the satellite locations but offering to cover postage for absentee balloting, the clerk’s office will save almost $25,000.
Elections Manager Carrie Phillips said not enough absentee ballots have been cast at satellite locations to justify providing the service in all taxing districts. In the latest general election, 42,700 votes were cast, 3,684 of them at satellite locations.