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Eye on Boise: Secretary of State predicts strong voter turnout

SUNDAY, SEPT. 30, 2012

BOISE – From a popular GOP presidential nominee with an enthusiastic base in the state to controversial school-reform referendums that are drawing attention to the balloting, Idaho’s poised for strong fall election turnout, according to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

Though he won’t make official predictions until later, Ysursa said historical precedent suggests that between 75 and 80 percent of Idaho’s registered voters will turn out by Nov. 6.

“Candidates and issues drive turnout,” Ysursa said. “The presidential race coupled with the referenda we think will stimulate participation.”

Some early voting already has begun in Idaho, with absentee ballots going out in the mail to those who have requested them. Dates for in-person early voting vary by county; in Kootenai County, it starts Oct. 9.

Ysursa said he’s already voted by absentee ballot because his job keeps him busy on Election Day. Close to a third of Kootenai County residents have chosen to vote early in recent years, but statewide, 80 to 85 percent of Idahoans still choose to go to the polls on Election Day.

“What I tell voters is: Vote,” Ysursa said. “We have no preference on how they participate, as long as they participate. And if it’s a real convenience to go vote early, and it is for a lot, they can. Anything that makes it easier to participate is good for the system.”

Idahoans will receive a pamphlet in the mail from Ysursa’s office this week with information and arguments regarding the three referendums and two constitutional amendments on the ballot this year. “I would hope people study them and come up with their own informed vote on it,” Ysursa said.

He noted that Idaho is one of just over a half-dozen states that allow Election Day voter registration at the polls, and it also has no-excuse absentee or early voting. Plus, controversial new requirements in this year’s primary election that forced Idaho voters for the first time to declare their party affiliation don’t apply to the November general election.

Idaho does have a law requiring voters to show a photo ID in order to vote, but those who don’t have one can sign an affidavit instead.

“I think we have a very open and accessible system,” Ysursa said. “There are no impediments to Idahoans to cast their vote.”

Options for Medicaid

Members of Gov. Butch Otter’s Medicaid expansion working group gathered last week to review three options: Keep the status quo; decline to expand Idaho’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income Idahoans but restructure the current medical indigency program; or expand Medicaid, which is largely federally funded, and do away with the indigency program.

The panel hasn’t yet made its call, but there was little support for the first two options, and few answers on how the current indigency program – which relies entirely on county property taxpayer funds and state general tax funds and costs about $60 million a year – could be fixed. The latest projections presented to the panel show the indigency program costs would rise to $92.2 million a year by 2020. And those figures are just for benefits paid; they don’t count administrative costs.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a physician, said the group needs clear, easily understood graphics comparing the costs of each option. “If we really believe that it’s going to cost us less in the future, we have to be able to show that,” he said. He said there’s concern about “creating an adverse business environment in the state of Idaho because we won’t expand Medicaid,” to the point that a business considering relocating to the state might say, “Wait a minute, you want me to come to the state of Idaho and pick up a part of your indigent care? We’re not coming.”

Susie Pouliot of the Idaho Medical Association said the IMA physicians took a policy position in July in favor of expanding Medicaid in Idaho. She said their hope was not only to get patients into “the appropriate care … at a more appropriate cost” but also to make the move part of a transformation of health care in Idaho into a more managed-care type of environment, so that “coordination and transitions are managed in a way that produces good health results.”

Gooding County Commissioner Tom Faulkner said, “I think we do want to make the point that we want to promote a strong business environment by minimizing the taxes and the costs to the citizens of the state. That is a big deal.”

Dan Chadwick, head of the Idaho Association of Counties, said of the existing medical indigency program, “They’re unsustainable numbers. We cannot afford those any longer. And those same people that are going to the county now for assistance are the ones that are paying those increased property taxes or state taxes.”

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