early voting

Mail-in election ballots are prepared at the Bonneville County Elections Office in this Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 file photograph.

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The number of absentee ballots submitted to counties across eastern Idaho this fall already exceeds the total absentee numbers they saw during the 2016 presidential election.

At least 36,500 absentee ballots have been returned as of Tuesday in 10 counties contacted by the Post Register. Those same counties reported a total of 34,356 votes by absentee ballot during the 2016 election. Several counties expect that Election Day will remain busy even as more voters shift to mail ballots.

Jefferson County had 1,940 absentee votes cast during the 2016 election. The county has already received more than 2,400 completed ballots for the November election and elections clerk Holly Ricks said that another 2,000 had been sent out.

During the 2016 election, Teton County was the only county in Idaho where absentee ballots made up the majority of votes cast. This year, the number of absentee ballots submitted has already grown slightly from 2,638 to 2,700 and elections officer Jenifer Shaum said another 950 ballots had been sent out as of Monday.

“We are encouraging people to vote early because we do still expect to be busy on Election Day, and you never know what the weather will be like in November in Idaho,” Shaum said.

Absentee Numbers

County Absentee Absentee VotesTotal Votes in 2016 as of Oct. 20
BannockBingham 95143706 96544106
Bonneville 10920 11000
Clark 50 77
Custer 628 913
Fremont 911 1070
Jefferson 1940 2481
Lemhi 1342 2210
Madison 2707 2443
Teton 2638 2700

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office said that 194,103 absentee ballots have been collected as of Monday, while another 42,000 early votes have been cast. That puts the state close to clearing the mark of 202,000 absentee votes cast during the 2016 presidential election.

A high number of votes overall is not a surprise for the 2020 election. Last week Idaho passed a million registered voters for the first time in the state’s history, with more than 400,000 of those requesting absentee ballots.

The demand for early and absentee voting comes from high interest in the presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden competing with concerns for how the coronavirus will affect Election Day. Early voter data from the University of Florida shows that more than 35 million Americans have already turned in early or absentee ballots. The Washington Post reports that 16 states have already exceeded their early vote totals from the 2016 election.

Several of the clerks pointed to the May elections as a driver for the increased demand for absentee ballots. That election was entirely conducted through mail-in voting, resulting in Idaho’s highest turnout rate for a primary election since 1980 and more than 335,000 total votes cast. The form for mail ballots during the primary included an option for voters to request absentee ballots for the other elections taking place in 2020.

“When we got the cards back from the Secretary of State’s office, we knew if they wanted absentee ballots for the August or November election. So we anticipated a good amount of the demand,” Bingham County elections director Danette Miller said.

Bingham County has sent out 7,300 absentee ballots for the November election — nearly double the number of absentee votes cast in 2016. Bonneville County Clerk Penny Manning said the county has had five times as many absentee ballot requested than in 2016. Bonneville has logged more than 11,000 absentee ballots as of this week, roughly the same as the total cast by mail during the previous election, as well as another 3,000 early in-person votes since Oct. 5.

“When a presidential election is on the ballot, we have around 70% turnout. We are hoping the absentee vote count reduces lines and foot traffic on Election Day so we can keep people safe and distanced,” Manning said.

The in-person early voting option is not seeing the same demand as the mail ballots. The Bonneville, Bingham and Jefferson county election offices all said that early voting at their election offices was steady but mostly in line with how many voters used the option in 2016.

Even though thousands of votes have already been cast, none of them will be logged until 8 p.m. on election night. Initial results will take at least another hour to be announced due to the counties in northern Idaho that are in Pacific Daylight Time.

The deadline for Idaho voters to request an absentee ballot from their county is Friday, Oct. 23. Ballots need to be submitted to the county by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3 in order to be counted.

Brennen is the main education reporter for the Post Register. Contact him with news tips at 208-542-6711.