- Associated Press - Thursday, February 16, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A measure limiting early voting in Idaho is on its way to the House floor after squeaking through a skeptical legislative panel.

Freshman Republican Rep. Dustin Manwaring, of Pocatello, says his bill creates a standardized system for early voting that’s lacking in Idaho.

“This is a new layer of consistency that we’re adding. We’ll actually increase voter access to the polls and fairness because we’ll have that consistency statewide in our counties when early voting will be open to the public,” Manwaring said.

If passed, Idaho’s early voting window could take place any time from three weeks prior to the election to one week before. Currently, county clerks have the choice to begin early voting on or before the third week from the election. This has resulted in a hodgepodge of early voting start dates across the state, with the majority of smaller counties choosing not to open the polls early to save on costs.

“The trend is, generally, early voters vote close to election day, it starts slow and then it ramps up,” said Phil McGrane, chief deputy clerk of Ada County, the state’s most populated county. “I don’t know if four weeks, five weeks really makes that much of a difference.”

McGrane, who has been an avid supporter of expanding early voting in Idaho, said that he thinks it’s more beneficial to expand opportunities for early voting rather than lengthening the timeframe. For example, McGrane implemented mobile voting stations, similar to food trucks, during Ada County’s early voting period in the weeks leading up to the presidential election.

However, critics countered that the bill stripped local control away from county clerks who know best when early voting should begin in their regions.

“I think it is nice that the counties can give discretion,” said Republican state Rep. Vito Barbieri, of Dalton Gardens, before voting against the measure. “It’s like holding the horse back when everything else is ready to go.”

The House State Affairs voted 8-7 on Thursday to send HB 150 to the House floor for approval.

Idaho is one of the 37 states that allow people to vote before election day without requiring a justification.

While the early voting period varies across states, the average starting date is 22 days before election day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That would be same in Idaho under Manwaring’s bill.

Furthermore, if HB 150 had been enacted in Idaho for the 2016 November election, voters would have had 15 days to vote early if the polls were open Monday through Friday and closed the weekend before election day.

More than 193,000 people statewide voted early in the November election.

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