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Senate OKs bill to make permanent absentee ballot changes

Idaho

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BOISE (AP) — Legislation to make permanent changes in Idaho’s absentee ballot counting procedure passed the Senate on Thursday and is headed to the House.

The Senate voted 35-0 to approve the bill intended to speed absentee vote counting. It was used in the last general election and spurred by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers during an August special session approved a law allowing the opening and scanning of absentee ballots, but not counting votes, beginning seven days before Election Day. But that law expired Dec. 31.

Election officials said the change allowed county clerks to quickly report results of the November election. Idaho officials encouraged absentee and early voting because of the pandemic. About 400,000 of Idaho’s 1 million registered voters used absentee ballots and another 100,000 voted early. In all, a record-breaking 880,000 ballots were cast.

The law would also require that if any absentee ballots are opened before election day, they are maintained in an electronically accessed and secured area that is under 24-hour video surveillance livestreamed to the public. Also, a minimum of two election officials must be present whenever the absentee ballots are accessed.

“With those security measures in place, I think that we can feel comfortable that we are allowing our clerks and our elections departments to have access to the large number of absentee ballots that are growing each time we have an election,” Republican Sen. Mary Souza said.

The law would also require the video to be archived for at least 90 days after the election.

Election officials have said they don’t expect as many absentee ballots once the pandemic abates, but that they do expect more than in past years after so many people became familiar with the process for the last election.

The Senate also approved another election bill 35-0 involving absentee ballots that have a problem preventing them from being counted.

Typically, county clerks contact a voter when they discover they have done something that prevents their vote from being counted, such as forgetting to sign the outside envelope.

The legislation puts into law the ability of clerks to contact voters when an issue is discovered with a returned absentee ballot.

The proposed law sets a deadline of 8 p.m. on Election Day to fix any problems with absentee ballots, the same deadline used for other ballots cast.

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