CALDWELL — The Canyon County Elections Office said Monday it’s trying to find more polling places for the Nov. 3 election, following its Friday announcement that there would only be five polling places on Election Day.
Normally the county operates 55 polling places in 64 precincts but said this year it has to cut back because of a shortage of poll workers. Volunteers have been more hesitant to sign up because of COVID-19.
On Friday the county elections office announced that the five polling places would not be precinct-specific — meaning Canyon County voters could vote at any one of them. However, Chad Houck, Idaho chief deputy secretary of state, said polling places must be precinct-specific on Election Day.
There’s a difference between consolidated polling places, which serve more than one precinct at a single location, and a vote center, where voters from any precinct within the jurisdiction can vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which reports that 17 states allow vote centers on Election Day.
Idaho is among the states that allow vote centers for early voting but not on Election Day.
A bill during Idaho’s special legislative session in August would have allowed counties to set up vote centers on Election Day — a suggestion that had widespread support from county clerks. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House State Affairs committee, where lawmakers raised concerns about elections being unpredictable for voters and large crowds gathering at vote centers during the pandemic.
Canyon County does not have enough poll workers to open polling locations in all 64 precincts, Clerk Chris Yamamoto said in Friday’s announcement.
“This was our best option to help ensure a smooth voting process both on Election Day and during the early voting period,” he said.
The elections office on Monday said the final polling places will be set after the county commissioners approve the locations on Friday morning. After that, the county will send a mailer to registered voters informing them of their Election Day polling location.
Rudy Soto, who is running for Idaho’s 1st Congressional District against incumbent U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, urged the Canyon County Clerk’s Office to reverse the decision to name five polling places and to designate at least 55 polling places.
“It is absolutely stunning to hear that my hometown of Nampa will have only one polling place,” Soto said in a statement. “This is blatantly intended to disenfranchise low income and minority voters. Canyon County is home to the largest Hispanic population in the state, and entire towns are going to be shut out of reasonable access to voting booths.”
Fulcher said in a statement that his campaign has been in contact with Canyon County and is confident that voters will have multiple, convenient options to vote.
“Like many regions across Idaho and the nation, Canyon County is short on poll workers,” Fulcher said in the statement. “But a third of the counties’ registered voters have already requested absentee ballots, and officials estimate that another third will be voting early at one of five early voting locations.”