BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Lawmakers in Idaho on Monday introduced legislation to make permanent changes to the counting of absentee ballots used in the last general election and spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted to clear the way for a public hearing for the bill intended to make absentee vote counting faster.
Lawmakers during an August special session called due to the pandemic approved a law allowing the opening and scanning of ballots beginning seven days before Election Day that November.
Election officials anticipated a huge surge in absentee ballots as Idaho voters feared going to polls due to the pandemic. Also, the number of actual polls decreased as poll workers, who tend to be older and more susceptible to serious illness if they contract the virus, opted not take part.
The November election arrived as coronavirus cases surged in the state. Republican Gov. Brad Little a week before the election ordered the state back into stage 3 restrictions to preserve hospital capacity as intertwined healthcare systems showed early signs of buckling.
Idaho officials encouraged absentee and early voting, and about 500,000 of Idaho's 1 million registered voters used those two options. In all, a record-breaking 880,000 ballots were cast.
Election officials said the new law allowing ballots to be opened and scanned, but not tallied, allowed county clerks to quickly report the election results.
But that law expired on Dec. 31. Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said the bill introduced Monday is "effectively just striking that deadline."
McGrane after the meeting said the change was critical in allowing election officials to timely report results of the November general election. In Ada County, he said, about 130,000 voters cast absentee ballots in November. That's five times the number of absentee ballots cast in previous general election.
McGrane said that he doesn't expect that many absentee ballots once the pandemic has abated.
"But we expect, just because now people have used it for the first time, there's a greater comfort with it for some voters and we will see an uptick," he said.
McGrane also said more legislation involving absentee voting was expected "just to tighten it up."
"We did have some examples of potential voter fraud that we're looking into," he said. "But, again, they're very small in number here, and so I think everyone should have confidence and faith in the process for absentee, early votes or election day votes."