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Idaho may hold traditional elections despite coronavirus

photo of ada county elections office

Voting machines in storage. Idaho plans to operate standard elections rather than exclusively using absentee ballots in August and November. Photo by Sharon Fisher

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho residents may vote in person during elections in August and November despite the continuing spread of the coronavirus, officials said.

Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said Idaho plans to operate standard elections rather than exclusively using absentee ballots, The Idaho Statesman reports.

Idaho’s May 19 primary was the first statewide election held by mail only. Republican Gov. Brad Little signed a proclamation in April allowing the change that resulted in record voter turnout across the state.

Little said last week he may request a special session of the state Legislature to address the November election.

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office said the decision to implement social distancing or other protective measures will be left to county clerks. The office and health officials will also issue guidelines.

“They know their communities better than we do, and it’s reasonable to us to leave that in their capable hands,” Houck said.

Idaho’s decision to go to an all-absentee election in May was prompted by county clerks’ concerns about a lack of available poll workers, Houck said.

At least one county, Kootenai, had fewer than 10 confirmed poll workers to staff precincts that usually require 400 volunteers, Houck said.

The secretary of state’s office has yet to hear the same level of concerns from county clerks for the August elections, Houck said.

Counties must confirm and publish precinct locations five Fridays before an election.

Houck urged residents who want traditional elections to volunteer as poll workers, as many regular volunteers are older and at high risk for coronavirus infection.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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