BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho voters got extra time to request their absentee ballots for the primary election, but they may not receive those ballots in time to actually vote.
Chad Houck, Idaho’s deputy secretary of state, says about 14,000 additional people were able to request ballots after a federal judge extended the deadline to request ballots by a week following last-minute problems with the Idaho Votes website, where voters were supposed to be able to request ballots for the primary.
That’s about 3% of the 429,000 total absentee ballots Houck said voters requested.
But Houck said that because U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill opted not to also extend the deadline for when ballots may be returned to be counted, it is possible that some voters will receive their ballots after the deadline for returning them: next Tuesday, June 2.
“We do anticipate there are going to be ballots that are unfortunately going to arrive at homes on the third,” Houck told the Statesman in a phone interview Thursday. “But that’s beyond the control of the clerks. They were doing what they had to do to comply.”
The primary election was originally scheduled for May 19. It includes races in either or both parties for Idaho’s two seats in the House of Representatives plus the Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Jim Risch. Each of the 105 seats in the Idaho Legislature is also up this year, as are four offices in every county: commissioner districts one and two, prosecutor and sheriff.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Gov. Brad Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney announced in March that the state would change the primary to an all-absentee voting system to protect voters and poll workers. Dates changed slightly: Voters had until 8 p.m. on May 19, the primary election day, to request their ballots, but they would have to return them before 8 p.m. June 2, when they would be counted.
The two weeks between the dates were designed to give voters who requested their ballots at the last minute time to return them, Houck said.
The ruling came after the Idaho Votes website was unable to process last-minute requests, meaning some voters were not able to request a ballot. Nicholas Jones, a candidate challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher for his 1st District seat, sued on May 19 for an extension, which Winmill granted on May 22.
Winmill set the new request deadline as Tuesday, May 26. Elections officials told the judge that the shortened time frame meant some people may not receive their mailed ballots in time, but Houck said the judge decided not to address that.
If you aren’t sure if you will receive your ballot in time, Houck recommended you reach out directly to your county clerk. “At this point, the election is theirs to run,” he said.
Ada County issued 4,602 ballots from requests made by last Tuesday’s deadline, Chelsea Carattini, spokesperson for the Ada County elections office, told the Statesman in an email. Most of those were paper requests that arrived immediately after the initial deadline.
The rest — 1,325 ballot requests — came through the online request system, nearly half of the roughly 3,000 ballots statewide that Houck estimated came in through Idaho Votes before the second deadline.
“Those that requested a ballot after the first May 19 deadline will likely get their ballot in the mail on or just before June 2,” Carattini said.
Now, so close to vote-counting day, Carattini said, the only way to ensure a ballot arrives in time to be counted is to deliver it by 8 p.m. Tuesday to the ballot drop box in front of the Ada County elections office, 400 N. Benjamin Lane in Boise.
County clerks across the state have similar drop-off points for voters, Houck said.