Election season is on us again, but with COVID-19 still a concern, there are more questions than ever about what voting will look like. Election Day, Nov. 3, is just weeks away.
Across the state, Idahoans are preparing to vote for their county commissioners, sheriffs and prosecuting attorneys. In Ada County, voters will also weigh in on three of the five seats of the Ada County Highway District. Candidates for president, Congress and the Idaho Legislature will also be on the ballot.
How should you vote in a pandemic? How and where do you register? How do you request a ballot so you can vote by mail? Will the election be secure?
HOW DO I REGISTER TO VOTE IN IDAHO?
You can register at your county clerk’s office, but the fastest way is to visit IdahoVotes.gov. Click “New/Update Voter Registration” (the red box) and put in your information, including your name, your birthday and a few questions to help verify you’re eligible to vote and getting the right ballot.
If you’d prefer to mail your registration, you can do that by printing out the form at that site.
If you’re not sure if you’ve registered, that’s easy to look up. Click the blue “Check Your Voter Record” box. That’s where you can also look up the address you’re registered under, your voting district and your polling place. If you’ve moved recently, you’ll need to update your address.
The deadline to register is Friday, Oct. 9. But you can also register to vote in person at your polling place on Election Day. See the next question.
HOW DO I VOTE DURING THE PANDEMIC?
Your polling place will still be open on Election Day. To vote, bring a photo ID (a driver’s license, state ID card, tribal card or passport) to your polling place. If you don’t, you’ll still be able to vote by signing a “personal identification affidavit” verifying you are who you say.
You can also register to vote there. To register, you must have:
- A photo identification (state issued ID, tribal card, U.S. passport or current student ID)
- A state ID number or the last four digits of your Social Security number
- Proof of residency (vehicle registration, current utility bill, bank statement, etc.)
You have the right to ask for help from poll workers or to bring someone with you to help you vote. Poll workers can read you your ballot and help you mark your section.
If you’re not comfortable voting in person, you can vote absentee.
HOW DO I VOTE ABSENTEE? OR BY MAIL? WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
There is a distinction between absentee voting and voting by mail in some states. Those states are sending all voters ballots in the mail. In some places an absentee ballot is a separate option available for those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to obtain a ballot, perhaps while overseas or at college.
In Idaho, there is no distinction. To vote by mail, you vote absentee. You won’t be mailed a ballot automatically. The state allows you to request one by 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23. But the U.S. Postal Service asks you to request your ballot at least 15 days before Election Day. That means no later than Monday, Oct. 19.
Request a ballot by visiting IdahoVotes.gov and clicking the green “Request An Absentee Ballot” box. There, you’ll put in your first name, last name, birthday, driver’s license number (the one at the top right of your license) and the last four digits of your Social Security number.
Select where you want your ballot mailed. Then confirm you are who you say and then click submit. The entire process takes about a minute.
Once you get your ballot, fill it out and put it into the secrecy sleeve that came with it. Put that sleeve into the outer envelope. Sign the envelope. That signature is an important part of security measures put in place to protect the validity of the election.
The Postal Service recommends mailing your ballot at least seven days before Election Day to be sure your ballot arrives in time to be counted. If you don’t, you can still put it in the drop box outside your county elections office by 8 p.m. on Election Day. In Ada County, you’ll find a drop box at 400 N. Benjamin Lane in Boise. In Canyon County, go to 1102 E. Chicago in Caldwell.
HOW DO I KNOW ABSENTEE VOTING IS SECURE?
The state has put several security measures in place to ensure security. One is a requirement that you request your ballot. That’s more secure than having authorities mail everyone ballots, state officials say.
That signature you need to include? Elections officials will compare it to the signature they have on file for you. If it doesn’t match or if you forgot to sign, your ballot will be thrown out. Elections officials are trained by law enforcement on how to verify a signature. If there is confusion, the Ada County elections staff says it will reach out to you.
Officials also scan the envelopes to make sure their bar codes match what they have on file for your ballot. Ballots are stored in a secured cage until they are counted. The day before Election Day, officials say, they will open the envelopes and separate them from the secrecy sleeves, making sure your ballot is kept anonymous.
I’VE REGISTERED, AND I’M WAITING FOR MY BALLOT. WHEN DO I GET IT?
It will be mailed to you from local elections offices on Oct. 5, so you should receive it a few days later. If you register after that first round of ballots goes out, you can expect your ballot in seven to 10 days after that.
If you want to check on your ballot’s status, visit IdahoVotes.gov and click the blue “Check Your Voter Record” box.
WHAT IS ON MY BALLOT THIS YEAR?
At the top of your ballot, you will find the presidential election. You’ll also vote on a few other federal races, including a Senate race and two seats in the House of Representatives.
At the state level, you’ll also have the chance to weigh in on state senators and state representatives. If you’re not sure which district you’re in, you can look it up by putting your address in at legislature.idaho.gov/legislators/whosmylegislator/.
Locally, you’ll also have the chance to vote in some county-level races. In all Idaho counties they include districts 1 and 2 for your county commissioners, your county prosecuting attorney and your county sheriff.
In Ada County, some voters will also weigh in on their Ada County Highway District commissioners. You’ll vote if you live in District 1 (which is much of the southeastern part of Boise west of Cole Road and south of Shaw Mountain Road), District 2 (Garden City, western Boise and parts of eastern Meridian) or District 5 (the rest of the western part of the county between Boise River and north of I-84).
There aren’t any city races this year. Those happen in odd-numbered years.
HOW CAN I HELP OTHERS VOTE?
In many places across the state, poll workers — particularly younger people — are desperately needed. Poll workers are generally older people, who are believed to be at higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Contact your county clerk’s office if you can serve. In Ada County, call 208-287-6860 and in Canyon County, call 208-454-7337. Elsewhere, find your clerk’s contact information by visiting IdahoVotes.gov/county-clerks.