BOISE, Idaho — House Bill 547 could be debated on the House floor in the coming days. The sponsor of the bill, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star said it addresses ballot harvesting.
"One concern that has come up is with absentee ballots or voting by mail is whether people are collecting ballots and then going and dropping--you know kind of dropping them all off at a drop-off box or something like that," Jaclyn Kettler, a Political Science professor at Boise State University said.
The Idaho Secretary of State's office said it's concerned with political activists engaging in ballot harvesting.
"They will go around and collect these ballots, offering to deliver the ballots for the voter to the poll, rather than have the voter have to, I guess walk to their mailbox to mail them back to the county clerk," Jason Hancock, Deputy Secretary of State, said.
The proposed legislation aims to crack down on this practice, by limiting the handling ballots by election officials, postal workers, family members and those who share a household. Even those who are authorized to handle ballots can not deliver more than six at a time.
If someone is paid to deliver ballots by someone other than the voter or delivers more than ten ballots, they could be charged with a felony.
The bill also has an emergency clause, meaning if passed in time, it would be in effect for the may primary.
"I'm tired of trying to legislate other states' problems and since it's never happened here, I don't know how it could possibly be an emergency," Democratic Representative Chris Mathias of Boise said.
There is concern with the emergency clause that there would not be enough time to get the word out to voters about this change before the primary election in may.
Additionally, the statement of purpose for the bill says Idaho does not currently experience significant problems with ballot harvesting.
A similar bill was introduced last year and passed the House but did not get a hearing in the Senate.
In the 2016 general election, more than 28% of Idaho voters cast an absentee ballot. Opponents of HB 547 say the bill would make it harder for many of these Idahoans to vote in future elections.
“What is the compelling reason for making it more difficult or impossible for the disabled, the elderly, reservation residents, those in care facilities, the sick and those lacking transportation to exercise their constitutional right to vote?” Kendall Shaber said when testifying on behalf of Betsy McBride, the President of the League of Women Voters of Idaho.
Boise High School junior, Shiva Rajbhandari agreed.
"It doesn't exclude nursing home staff or hospice care personnel. So correct me if I'm wrong, Chairman, wouldn't someone in hospice care need assistance getting their absentee ballot to the mail?" he said.
Executive Director of the Idaho Democratic Party, Jared Deloof, pointed out another way this bill could have unintended consequences.
"I just don't think that the state should be in the business of criminalizing and making things a felony that in rural communities like where I'm from is a longstanding tradition of helping each other out." he said.
A similar bill was passed in Arizona in 2016 and immediately faced legal challenges. The Supreme Court upheld the law over the summer.
One key difference between the Idaho bill and the Arizona law is that Arizona's does allow caregivers to deliver ballots.
Hancock said the Secretary of State's office wants to encourage absentee voters to mail their ballots. He also said many county clerks work with nursing homes to assist with absentee voting.
Some who are opposed to house bill 547 say it's a solution where there is no problem.
As we've reported, the Idaho Secretary of State's office performed recounts after the November 2020 election and says they found a 0.1% margin of error.
A political science professor at the University of Washington said voter fraud, both in-person and absentee, is rare.
"Across states in the 2020 elections, given the covid-19 pandemic, there was a huge explosion of vote by mail election processing across states and we did not see any changes in voter fraud levels," Jacob Grumbach said.
This is all part of a broader debate happening nationwide about election integrity and accessibility.
We'll continue to follow these bills as the session continues.