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Officials: Early Idaho voting compensates for fewer polls

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The number of voting locations across Idaho for Tuesday's election is down about 15% from usual due to the coronavirus, but a huge surge in early voting has more than compensated, state election officials said Monday.

Nearly 500,000 of the state's one million registered voters had already cast a ballot as of early Monday, either by early voting or absentee ballots, which were still arriving, the secretary of state's office said.

In previous elections, early and absentee voting ranged from about 15% to 20%, officials said. Some 300,000 people are expected to cast ballots Tuesday.

"We have every reason to believe that the day will go smoothly," said Chad Houck, chief deputy at the secretary of state's office.

Some voting locations have closed or moved to allow for social distancing. Highly populated Canyon County in southwestern Idaho has cut the number of voting locations from 64 to 21. However, officials there also increased early voting locations from one to five.

Neighboring Ada County has also cut polling places, as has Kootenai County in northern Idaho.

All those counties, as well as Latah County in northern Idaho, are taking advantage of a law passed during the special legislative session last summer and signed by Republican Gov. Brad Little allowing the opening and scanning of ballots beginning seven days before Election Day. Lawmakers anticipated a big increase in early voting.

Houck said only counties with the budgets to pay for the scanning machines as well as security measures, which include streaming video of the ballot handling, are using the scanning machines. Counting of votes won't start until Tuesday, with results released once polls close in all of Idaho.

The 2016 general elections saw 710,000 ballots cast in the state, representing a turnout of 75% of registered voters. If 300,000 voters show up Tuesday at the polls, that would represent an overall turnout of about 80%.

The election arrives as coronavirus cases are surging in Idaho. Little last week ordered the state back into stage 3 restrictions to preserve hospital capacity as intertwined healthcare systems showed early signs of buckling. The restrictions are minimal, however, mainly limiting crowd sizes. Little didn't issue a mask mandate.

Houck said contingency plans are in place across the state should poll workers be unavailable to work due to COVID-19. He said some workers had to be replaced during early voting.

Johns Hopkins University reported that through Sunday, Idaho had a total of more than 65,000 infections and 630 deaths.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is reporting a high positivity rate of 14%. The department also reported that the state on Monday had 94 available intensive care beds, a drop of 24 from the previous day.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho Politics

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