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Idaho Secretary of State asks to delay election, move to mail-in ballots in response to COVID-19
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Idaho Secretary of State asks to delay election, move to mail-in ballots in response to COVID-19

GOP Bus Tour

Lawrence Denney speaks with supporters during a stop on the GOP bus tour Friday, Oct. 24, 2014, at The Body Works in Buhl.

BOISE — Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney wants to delay the May 19 primary election and conduct it exclusively by mail.

Denney submitted an official request to Gov. Brad Little on Friday to close all polling sites for the next election and have people cast their vote via absentee ballots. He also requested the election be moved to June 16 to give counties more time to prepare. 

The primary election poses “serious concerns" with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, Denney wrote in the letter. 

“The use of polling places presents a particular challenge in light of the danger we now face as a result of the coronavirus,” he said. “On any given Election Day hundreds, if not thousands, of voters, from all walks of life, come and go sharing common materials and space in over 900 polling places across our state.”

Gov. Brad Little recently ordered all Idahoans to stay home except to access essential services. The order and the state’s “extreme emergency declaration” have put the status of the May 19 election in question.

Officials have promoted the use of absentee voting, which allows people to request a ballot to submit in the mail if they are unable to show up to a polling place on election day. The requests can now be made online, and Denney's office said more than 4,000 people submitted a request in the first 48 hours of availability.

Denney's letter asks Little to provide Idahoans "the opportunity to request an absentee ballot," suggesting registered voters would not automatically receive a ballot in the mail — a request would still be necessary under the proposal. 

In a tele-townhall this week, Little urged voters to request an absentee ballot and said he was in conversations with Denney about election plans.

“I'm very concerned about the age … of poll workers and the fact that they’re some of the most at-risk people,” Little said. “We will do something.”

Denney said a decision needs to be made soon. 

“If we are going to make any changes to the election process in light of the emergency declaration, we need to do so immediately,” he said in Friday’s statement. “A decision of this magnitude will affect everyone involved in the election."

Primary election ballots include races for Congressional seats, Statehouse seats, and county offices.

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