Before the unprecedented turnout in 2020, Idaho had a serious problem with voter turnout, especially for our local elections. In Nampa’s mayoral election in 2017, for example, only 20 percent of registered Nampa voters submitted a ballot to choose their Mayor and three city council seats. An identical election was happening in Caldwell that year, but only 16 percent of registered voters voted. When you take a closer look, some precincts reported 4-6 percent registered voter turnout.
I’ve spent the last three years talking to Idahoans about the reasons they haven’t been voting. The vast majority of those I’ve spoken with say they would vote if they had better support to navigate our complex system, if candidates reached out to them directly, and if it felt like their voice mattered. Institutional barriers have surrounded our election process from the early years of our democracy, and unfortunately, many of those barriers still exist today.
However, instead of working to make our voting systems easier for Idahoans, some state lawmakers are threatening to make it even harder to vote. For example, Rep. Mike Moyle introduced a bill that would make it a felony to have more than two ballots in your possession, even if those ballots are from your family members. This bill has the potential to disenfranchise rural communities, working families, and the elderly — criminalizing the very act of helping your fellow neighbor with casting their vote. While many of his colleagues voiced concerns over the bill, Rep. Moyle doubled down and made clear his true intentions when he said, “Voting should not be easy.”
Some of his other colleagues in the House seem to agree. Rep. Tammy Nichols introduced legislation that would only allow votes cast in person on Election Day to count in a Presidential election — meaning Idahoans would not be able to early vote or vote-by-mail unless they are overseas military or prove they have a physical inability to vote in person. This is an outright attack on the thousands of working and rural families in Idaho — what if your child gets sick on Election Day? What if there’s a big snowstorm hampering your ability to get to the polls?
Another bill proposed by state Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy would prohibit teachers from giving extra credit to students for voting — we should be doing more to encourage our youth to uphold their civic responsibility, not less. Furthermore, at a finance committee meeting, Rep. Ron Nate brought up concerns from a committee invented by the Legislature called “Citizens Committee for Election Integrity,” in which he pushed for ending early voting and sharply restricting absentee voting.
Idaho’s absentee voting system was so successful and convenient in 2020 that over half of Idaho voters returned their ballots through the mail. We already have a paper trail for every ballot, including early voting and absentee. Many Idahoans enjoy voting in person on Election Day, but they trust having their ballot mailed to them or going in early in case they can’t make it to the polls during a short window.
Idahoans know that our elections are safe and secure. Making voting easier ensures ALL Idahoans have access to the ballot, not just the most privileged. We need to make sure rural communities and working families can also cast their vote. Please contact your legislator to urge them to vote no on any legislation that seeks to undermine our voting rights.