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Inside the Statehouse: Why the idea for 'vote centers' was killed by Idaho lawmakers

Posted at 11:36 AM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-28 13:37:40-04

IDAHO — A local clerk’s attempt to make in-person voting safer for poll workers -- and more accessible for voters -- was shot down in committee Tuesday.

As we previously reported, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane had the idea of vote centers, which he says aimed to address two main problems related to coronavirus.

As he told lawmakers in the House State Affairs committee Tuesday, the first reason for the vote centers idea -- was safety.

“There are seven polling locations all within like a little half mile of downtown eagle, we could have consolidated those into one bigger space where we have social distancing," said McGrane.

The second reason, he said, was to attract enough poll workers to sign up.
“What we we were trying to do is adjust to those larger facilities throughout Ada County, so we’ve already mapped out like where are the junior highs and the high school gyms are," said McGrane.

He said an added benefit would have been increased voter access to the polls, because these vote centers would have allowed people to vote at any time in their workday.

“It specifically adds the flexibility for any voter, to go to any polling location to vote," said McGrane. "It allows the people who live in Mccall, but work in Cascade, to just go ahead and vote on a break or after lunch while they’re in Cascade.”

This, he said, aimed to mitigate a common rush of people around 5 or 6 p.m. to precincts, causing lines, and therefore safety issues.

And when it came time to making a motion, the new concept was appealing to some lawmakers.

“I would like to see this tried," said Rep. Linda Wright Hartgen, R-Twin Falls.
“It’s in effect for one day, and one election, and then it never comes back -- and so it just seems like, we ought to give it a chance!” said Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom.

The proposition ultimately made more committee members nervous, than anything.

“This is not the time to be having a trial or a test on a presidential election of this magnitude," said Rep. Jason Monks, R-Nampa, who is also the assistant majority leader in the State House.

“This flies in the face of everything we’ve been told about social distancing," said Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, voted against the bill because he worries more people in bigger venues would instead become “coronavirus transmission centers," as he put it Tuesday.

A ten to five vote shot the idea down.

“We’re gonna have to adjust now, trying to maintain traditional polling sites, and it’s going to be a little more difficult. I do expect we will change some precincts, because some just aren’t adequate given the public health concerns," said McGrane.

But Mcgrane remains optimistic for the idea in the future.

“I think someday we will see this come to fruition. I recognize Representative Palmer said this may be a great idea in the future," said McGrane.

You can now request an absentee ballot online at idahovotes.gov.