Stay home and vote 

Ada urges absentee voters to slim lines

Ada County Clerk David Navarro wants YOU … to vote absentee.

The county will send request forms for absentee ballots to every registered voter later this month, in the hopes of expanding the rolls of those who vote from their kitchen table.

“It all goes back to long lines on Election Day,” Navarro said.

Large turnout for the 2004 election and lines around the corner in some West Ada County precincts in 2006 inspired the beefed up voter education and absentee efforts. Navarro split some of the rapidly growing precincts (the county now has 141 precincts, 20 more than last year), stepped up voter registration efforts to bypass same day registrations and now more voters are being encouraged to vote absentee.

The decision, announced in a letter to candidates that went out late last week, took candidates by surprise but is not raising any major objections.

“It just changes the time frame a little bit for some of the campaigns,” said Idaho Republican Party Executive Director Sid Smith. “There’s a potential for a lot more voters to vote early.”

That means candidates will have to make sure that voters have heard their names a few times before ballots arrive in the mail. It also changes the game for any last-minute television or AM radio hit campaigns.

In Oregon, where everyone votes by mail, the slow leadup to Election Day has changed the pacing of campaigns.

“Campaigns find out that they have got to time their peak, you can’t just gear up for the week before the election,” said Don Hamilton, spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State.

Hamilton said that does take some of the wind out of last-minute attack ads because half the electorate has already voted by then.

While none of the Idaho candidates BW spoke with were particularly excited about the prospect, no one voiced any major complaints either.

“It’s really important that they are sending out requests, not ballots,” said Democratic Sen. Kate Kelly, a member of the Senate State Affairs Committee. “So many of the campaigns are doing it on their own anyway at this point, and parties, that if the county wants to do it that’s great.”

Kelly faces a Republican challenge in District 18 from Dean Sorensen.

Rep. Raul Labrador, who was on his way back from St. Paul, Minn., where he attended the Republican National Convention as a spectator, had some initial concerns about the legality of the move but did not think merely mailing a ballot request would be against state law.

“I think it will affect the elections but I don’t know which way,” Labrador said, adding that more older voters, who may be Republican voters, tend to go for absentee ballots.

Democrat Glida Bothwell is challenging Labrador in District 14.

Betsie Kimbrough, elections division supervisor for the Secretary of State, said Ada County is within the limits of the state election law by providing the requests. The absentee ballot request is widely available in county offices and online, at Idahovotes.gov.

But there have been efforts, led by county clerks, to implement vote by mail or permanent absentee voting in Idaho, which are not authorized under state law. The Legislature has rejected both ideas.

Kootenai and Bonner counties took out ads in local newspapers during the Primary Election with cut-out absentee request forms, and both counties were able to greatly increase absentee voter participation.

“We kind of undertook this because of the resistance that some of our legislators have to doing a permanent absentee,” said Marie Scott, Bonner County Clerk.

Scott said two months out from the election, she already has 800 absentee requests.

“All I do is publish it in the paper, I’m not playing partisan politics with it, it’s a neutral publication,” Scott said.

Navarro agreed the move is not partisan in any way, but rather encourges more voters to vote at home where they can study the issues at their own leisure and relieves stress on polling stations. He stressed that no one is required to vote absentee; it is simply another option. And, he said, the cost of mailing the postcards should offset the cost of extra poll workers who would need to be hired if all of those absentee voters were to go to the polls instead.

As for the late date announcing the move, Navarro said candidate filings just closed on Sept. 1 and that campaigns were notified shortly thereafter. The county is planning a publicity campaign to coincide with the ballot mailing in about two weeks.

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