IDAHO — Avoiding germs at the polls: we’re less than 100 days away from the general election, and Idaho’s county clerks are working to strike the balance between accessibility, accuracy and safety amid the COVID-19 crisis.
As we previously reported, Idaho officials are planning to administer both absentee and in-person voting in the November 3 general election, despite officials saying absentee voting should not be cause for concern of fraud in Idaho.
On top of that, one clerk says that even an absentee-only election, like we had in May, did not prove to suppress voter turnout locally.
"Idaho saw its highest turnout -- in terms of total voters -- ever in our last primary, where we did it all via the mail," said Phil McGrane, Ada County Clerk.
But Idaho's Chief Deputy Secretary of State says he surveyed clerks from counties across the Gem State and found that about 75 percent of them say they feel comfortable hosting polling places in November.
"The question comes down to what is the right fit for the situation?” said Chad Houck, Chief Deputy Secretary of State.
Idaho News 6 also surveyed social media users on Idaho Facebook groups, and of the 167 people who replied with a clear preference, 83 percent of them said they’re in favor of in-person polling places remaining an option.
One user, for example, said she doesn’t trust voting by absentee, and thinks people should have the option for in-person.
"If you win the lottery will you mail in the ticket to claim it or turn it in in person?" said Amanda Spurgeon of Nampa. "The election is far more important than the lottery, so I say in person is the best way."
Another user said she’s shocked officials are going to allow in-person voting, given the recent case count.
"I’m horrified that we would knowingly put seniors at risk," said Jamie Borge of Boise.
Borge brings up a worthy point, and likely the elephant in the room: Idaho’s coronavirus curve has been swooping drastically upward since that May primary, with the death count toppling over 200 just this week.
Still, Houck says more options are a good thing.
"We still want to make the availability -- as much as possible -- we want to make it where they have the option of that physical polling location, because some people quite frankly just prefer to cast a physical ballot," said Houck.
This doesn't necessarily mean polling places will be as crowded as they have been in years past.
"We’re gonna probably see four times as many people -- just on what’s already been requested -- that are already going to have absentee ballots in their hands prior to the November election," said Houck.
Houck says they’re urging absentee voters to submit their votes early, so as to mitigate foot traffic at the polls.
Plus, these precautions: "We’re partnering with Anheuser-Busch. They’re providing hand sanitizer for all of our counties... We’re advising county clerks on CDC guidelines," said Houck.
Still — he and McGrane are encouraging absentee voting.
"We want to drive people, and advocate people, to utilize the absentee ballot if they feel that that’s what they want to do," said Houck.
McGrane, the clerk of Idaho's most populous county, says he feels he can handle the hybrid situation but is hoping for a little more support.
"Ya know, we don’t usually do a lot of absentees or mail. We need some assistance," said McGrane. "We should be having a meeting here in the next coming week, and my hope is that they will be recommending a special legislative session that the governor could call to address the election.”
We’ll keep you updated on that.
In our next report in this election series, we'll be diving into the health and safety of poll workers this November and how Idaho officials are planning to mitigate the threat of transmission to that group, which is typically composed of folks from the senior demographic.
Go to idahovotes.gov to get registered to vote. It’s worth noting that if you’ve moved recently, it’s likely you’ll need to re-register to vote.