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Idaho primary will be conducted completely by mail

In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the state will use absentee ballots for its May 19 election.

In a move to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Idaho will conduct its upcoming primary election entirely by mail.

Health experts nationally, as well as many political leaders, have been advocating for states to make the switch from physical polling places to mail-in ballots as the pandemic has forced much of the country into pseudo-quarantine.

In recent weeks, more than a dozen states have either postponed their presidential primaries or moved them to a vote-by-mail system. Idaho already held its presidential primary on March 10, but it has a normal primary for state and local elections on May 19.

On Wednesday Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney announced he and Governor Brad Little were heeding the health concerns, declaring the May election will be conducted entirely via absentee ballots.

"Given the growing number of coronavirus cases in Idaho, it simply was not safe for voters, election workers, or the larger community to hold in-person voting for the May primary," said Denney.

So how will all this work?

If you're already registered to vote, you have two options. One, go to IdahoVotes.gov and request an absentee ballot. Two, just wait until you get a request form in the mail, fill it out, and send it back. Idaho is sending a form to every voter in the state.

If you're not registered to vote, you can do that online too, or call your county clerk and have them mail you a voter registration form along with an absentee ballot request form.

There's also a big change in the election timeline. Election day is still May 19. But now the deadline to register to vote is also May 19th, and so is the deadline to request an absentee ballot. That's all possible because Idaho will wait until June 2nd before finally counting any ballots or releasing any results.

Now you might be wondering why the state has to send out ballot request forms and can't just mail folks their ballots. It;s because Idaho has a closed primary, meaning you have to be registered with a party to vote in their election. You can only get one party's ballot, so Idaho needs that request form in order to know which ballot to send you.

Unlike Washington, Idaho isn't used to voting by mail. The process will require hundreds of thousands of envelopes. Staff will be moved from manning polling places to helping operate this new system, according to Denney.

To pay for any costs of this change, Idaho is hoping it will be able to access some federal money provided for elections in the latest stimulus package.

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