In this session of the Idaho Legislature, Team Yurst has proposed House Bill 0063, short-titled “The Early Voting Opportunity Act.”
This Act, if passed, would require every county clerk in any county with more than 25,000 persons to have at least 2 and sometimes 3 absent electors’ polling places open at least 5 days per week for 9 hours per day between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. commencing 21 days before the election. The Fiscal Note accompanying the proposed legislation states, “The cost to run an early voting center for 15 days prior to an election (including labor, rental, and materials) is estimated to be between $5,000 and $7,500.”
For several reasons, the Team Yurst proposal would be bad law. It should be rejected by the Legislature.
1. If enacted today, the Act would impose additional arbitrary costs on 13 of Idaho’s 44 counties (based on 2011 population estimates) to comply with the Act for which a defined and explicit need has not been demonstrated.
2. Existing law (I.C. § 34-1006) already requires each of Idaho’s 44 counties to have 1 absent electors’ polling place. That same section already allows each of Idaho’s counties to individually and separately determine if the need exists for additional absent electors’ polling places and to provide them if needed.
The proposed Act would require each and every county with a total population of 25,001 or more to fund additional absent electors’ polling places even if no demonstrable need exists. Note that the requirement would be based entirely on census population and not on the distribution of qualified electors throughout the county. Based on 2011 Idaho population estimates, the Act would require 4 counties to have at least 3 absent elector polling places. The Act would require an additional 9 counties to have at least 2 absent elector polling places. The cost to fund each absent electors’ polling place would be borne by each county.
3. The State’s statutory duty is to provide qualified electors with the means and materials to vote lawfully and without unreasonable or unlawful impediments. Existing law meets the State’s statutory duty and provides all electors with equal access to voting.
It is not the State’s statutory duty to use public money to “get out the vote.” Encouraging voter participation is the responsibility of individuals, civic groups, and even political parties.
I.C. Title 34, Chapter 10 already provides for absent elector voting by mail, early absent elector voting at one absent electors’ polling place (or more if needed as identified by the county), and election day voting at polling places. Current law provides that a deputy clerk will assist certain special needs voters who cannot attend a polling place or who cannot mark a ballot.
Idaho’s existing election law treats every qualified elector equally when it comes to access to voting. Every qualified elector can present himself at a polling place on election day. Every qualified elector can vote by absentee ballot, either by mail or in person at the one or more absent electors’ polling places deemed necessary by that elector’s county clerk. Every qualified elector can receive assistance completing a ballot.
It is evident from the wording of House Bill 0063 that Team Yurst’s intent is to mandate easier and more convenient voting for qualified electors in more populated urban counties. Thus, urban voters will be given “more equal” access to early voting than their rural counterparts. Qualified electors make conscious, personal choices about where they live and work and when they are present in Idaho. It is not the responsibility of the State to expend public money to overcome inconveniences or compensate for the choices made voluntarily by each qualified elector. It is not the responsibility of the State to make access to voting “more equal” for some than for others.
ADDENDUM: 02-20-2013. Please follow this link to Error Correction posted today.