BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The second-most powerful member of the House took the unusual step on Thursday of sending his own bill to be amended after a debate on the House floor tilted toward almost certain defeat.
Republican House Majority Leader Mike Moyle made the move on his proposed law that would make it a felony in Idaho for a third party to collect and return multiple ballots to election officials.
But lawmakers from across the spectrum blasted the bill as criminalizing family members for dropping off ballots. They also said it would make it more difficult for people living in remote areas to vote as well as people living in assisted living facilities.
Republican Rep. Tammy Nichols, one of the more conservative members of the House, noted, as did other lawmakers, that she delivered her adult children's ballots as did some of her friends.
"I just really don't feel that the punishment will fit the crime in this case, and I would like to see some more work done on that," she said.
Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel had the same concern.
"Why this should make me a felony is beyond me," she said. "We don't even make drunk driving a felony."
The measure involves "ballot harvesting" that has become a partisan flashpoint across the nation.
More than half of states allow a third party to collect ballots, and political groups and campaigns from both parties have run ballot-collection programs aimed at boosting turnout and ensuring voters who are older, homebound, disabled or live far from U.S. postal services can get their ballot returned.
But questions about the practice intensified leading up to and following the general election in November when many more absentee ballots were cast because of the coronavirus pandemic, including in Idaho. Former President Donald Trump made unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud involving absentee ballots that were rejected by courts.
In North Carolina in 2018, ballot harvesting resulted in a congressional election being overturned. A state probe there found that a Republican political operative illegally gathered ballots. Workers testified that they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures and fill in votes. Officials overturned the election.
Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane testified at a committee hearing on the bill on Tuesday. He said a version of the legislation he preferred allowed a family member to deliver up to six ballots. And instead of a felony, violators would only face a misdemeanor.
Republican Rep. Greg Chaney, an attorney, said the proposed law lacked specificity. He said it was unclear if delivering his stepson's ballot would be a violation. He also noted that his legal assistant taking office mail to the post office that contained his ballot would be a criminal activity.
"The moment my legal assistant saw that, and then proceeded knowingly from our office down to the mailbox, she would have become a felon," he said.
It's not clear when the bill will be taken up for potential amendments.