By Ruth Jones
During the 2022 legislative sessions, Idaho experienced an extensive onslaught of proposed election legislation. In the 2022 legislative session, over 66 election law bills were introduced into the House. For comparison, in the year 2019, only 22 election law bills were introduced. This dramatic increase in proposed election legislation was fueled by growing concern from the state legislature, as well as Idahoans, that elections were not secure and that legislative action was necessary to ensure that the outcomes of elections were accurate and had not been influenced by electoral fraud.
As the Idaho Legislature debated House Bill 761, Representative Dorothy Moon took to the floor, to stress the need to improve the security of Idaho’s elections based on claims that Canadians have been crossing country lines to illegally participate in Idaho’s elections. However, this proposed example of fraud is completely unsubstantiated. The only recorded concerns regarding individuals crossing country lines to vote involved Americans who had left Idaho to enter Canada, and later returned to Idaho to vote. There, the court found that the Idahoans had not given up their registration and were permitted to vote.
Despite the inaccuracy of Moon’s account, her fears were echoed in other legislation. On the floor of Idaho’s House, the need to secure Idaho’s elections was constantly stressed. This is an important goal; however, it lacks that urgency stressed by the legislature as there have been no instances of voting fraud in Idaho since 2017.
Proposed House Bill 549 was also rooted in the desire to increase election security, and would have limited the approved type of IDs that citizens can use to prove their identity at the polls. It proposed to exclude the use of student ID cards. Many voters who have previously used a student ID will likely have an alternative form of photo identification. However, changing the ID requirements would be a major adjustment to the voting process. Despite any communication efforts, there would likely be individuals whose votes would be excluded because they were not aware of the change to approved types of ID and arrived at the polls unprepared.
The security of elections is an essential aspect of protecting the legitimacy of a democracy. If voter fraud frequently occurs, then individuals will not trust the outcome of elections and the system will fall apart. However, focusing on a potential problem that has not occurred can exasperate this situation by perpetuating misconceptions about the validity of electoral results.
The 2022 Idaho legislative docket is a good illustration of challenges that arise when a potentially serious concern is addressed without taking the time to craft a well-tailored approach to election fraud. Proposed House Bill 692 highlighted these fears.
This bill would have prevented individuals from voting if they have P.O. boxes because the law required voting registration forms to be mailed to a voter’s residence, even if they were unable to accept mail at the location. A regulation that prevented the use of P.O boxes would have an immense impact because Idaho is an incredibly rural state. Idahoans who live in these rural areas tend to use P.O. boxes because their houses are too far from the local town to receive mail. The bill would have implemented a requirement that would have excluded many Idahoans who rely on P.O. boxes for no grounded reason. Bill 692 was eventually pulled from the floor house, but it illustrates the danger of implementing legislation before thoroughly evaluating potential consequences.
Despite the efforts of many in the legislature, none of the above bills were enacted. In fact, out of the sixty-six bills that were proposed, only ten were adopted. The ten successful bills were much milder and included:
- House Bill 511 which requires the rotation of names on the ballot to address any perceived advantage that was randomly given through a certain location on the list of candidates;
- House Bill 566 which amends definitions in the Public Integrity in Elections act; and
- Senate Bill 1341 which releases election results while balancing two time zones.
The election regulations that were approved in Idaho’s 2022 legislation session do not implement any major alterations to the voting process, and they are unlikely to cause significant challenges to voting accessibility.
In this regard, Idaho stands as an example. Despite mass panic regarding the security of elections, the legislative process has the potential to filter out half-baked proposals that unnecessarily exclude voters.