Thursday, June 18, 2009

I wish I had thought of that...

Today the Statesman is reporting that the a group calling itself Idaho Vote by Mail is planning on pushing a citizen initiative to allow permanent absentee voting. That sounds like a great idea, I wish I had thought of it first. Wait a minute, I did. In both 2008 (HB 413) and 2009 (HB 26) I have pushed permanent absentee voting, but didn't get anywhere.

My impetus behind becoming involved in the issue predates my being elected to the legislator. In fact, it came in the HOT summer of 2006 when I was campaigning door-to-door. During that experience, while walking in Old Lakewood (as natives of SE Boise would refer to it), I came across an elderly couple with a fantastic life story. The gentleman of the house was (as I recall) a WWII vet and former mayor of a small town in Montana. He, with his wife by his side, spent his entire life serving our country and protecting our democracy. Unfortunately, due to his ailing health, he was no longer able to leave his home and neither was his wife because like many of that generation, she never learned to drive. Subsequently we had two people that served our Country that would likely never get to vote again. That, I believed, was a sham and patently unfair. I gave them absentee ballot request forms and picked them up and personally delivered them to Ada County Clerk a couple of weeks later. After some time thinking (and being elected), I concluded that something had to be done. Someone wasn't always going to be there to make sure they had the absentee ballot form to fill out. That's when I decided that permanent absentee was the perfect solution to this problem.

In 2008 when I attempted to push legislation I found an enthusiastic partner in the Idaho Association of Counties and the Clerks Association. After much work, we moved forward with having the legislation introduced. Unfortunately, that's far as it would go. It met a wall known as the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Tom Loertscher. While we had counted our votes in committee and they looked like enough to pass, we never had the support of the chair.

In 2009 the Clerks Association decided it wasn't worth the effort and so I was stuck carrying the mantel. After a very brief discussion with the chair it was clear that a hearing was out of the question and so was a print hearing. I decided to just run it as a personal bill and it went to die in House Ways and Mean-spirited.

Finally, I applaud the effort to move forward with a citizens initiative. I believe the group has accurately surmised that with an obstructionist chairman, this issue is DOA. Some of the critics will try scare folks into believing the system is inherently circumspect with voter fraud. They, frankly, don't know what they are talking about. The Secretary of State and the Clerks all feel that absentee voting is as secure (if not more so) than voting in the polling booth. These are the experts, if they are wrong about this, then we have a lot bigger problems on our hands. Some opponents will try to talk voters into thinking that permanent absentee gets rid of polling booths all together, again, they are wrong. In fact, the continued existence of polling booths is why I support permanent absentee over other forms of vote by mail, which do eliminate traditional polling locations. Ultimately, I hope the politics of fear misinformation is unsuccessful and Idahoans, just like at Burger King, can have it their way.

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