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Idaho House of Representatives votes to ban absentee ballot drop boxes

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, sits at her desk on the House floor at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 15, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, sits at her desk on the House floor at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 15, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Bill will be sent to the Idaho Senate for consideration next

A divided Idaho House of Representatives voted 37-33 to pass a bill Monday that would prohibit absentee ballot drop boxes used in Ada County and several other parts of the state.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, is sponsoring House Bill 693. She said the bill is necessary to protect the security of absentee ballots, which she suggested could be vulnerable to arson or theft in a drop box. If passed into law, the bill would make it so “the use of drop-boxes or other similar drop-off locations to collect absentee ballots is prohibited.”

“We have concerned Idahoans across the state that are worried about election integrity,” Giddings said on the House floor. “I don’t think there is a huge need for drop boxes now, but I think there is a huge need to encourage our voters to continue to vote and that our process is safe and fair.”

“This is just one small step we can take to reassure voters of the election security in Idaho,” Giddings added.

It is already a felony in Idaho to tamper with or remove ballots.

This bill contains an emergency clause that would make it effective as soon if it becomes law, should it pass. That means it would apply to the upcoming May 17 primary elections and existing ballot drop boxes would be prohibited.

The bill’s opponents said there have been no problems with the security of ballot drop boxes in Idaho and banning the drop boxes would make it harder for voters to vote.

Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammert, worried the bill didn’t differentiate between U.S. Postal Service drop boxes and ballot drop boxes. She also said voters in Elmore and Owyhee counties use ballot drop boxes and prohibiting them could make it harder for rural voters to vote.

“They work really well,” Blanksma said in debating against the bill. “They were really efficient for rural areas. They gave us options so we could get those ballots in without using the mail.”

Several legislators pointed out that the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office said concerns about widespread voter fraud following the 2020 election were without merit.

“The idea that Idaho has some sort of systemic problem just baffles me,” said Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, who voted against the bill.

With concerns over delays in mail delivery, Chaney said the ballot drop boxes offer voters confidence the ballot they submit will be received on time and count.

But Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, suggested voting by using an absentee ballot drop box is casual or frivolous.

“The voting is actually almost a sacred experience in that it really is what separates us from bondage and chaos,” Armstrong said.

“It doesn’t need to be convenient, it needs to be important,” Armstrong added.

Blanksma disagreed with Armstrong.

“I don’t agree that dropping your ballot in a drop box is frivolous or just casual, because if you have made that request for absentee, you are committed to voting,” Blanksma responded.

In the end, Republicans passed the bill by a close 37-33 margin.

The bill will be sent to the Idaho Senate next. To become law, it needs to pass the Idaho Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Brad Little or allowed to become law without his signature.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.