One major difference in Idaho’s low-key Secretary of State’s race appears to be how active the candidates think the office should be in pursuing voter turnout initiatives.
First-term incumbent Secretary Lawerence Denney, a Republican, has focused his attention on election management. Earlier this year, for example, Denney requested $1.29 million for the first phase of what could be a five-year election systems upgrade.
The money will allow his office to improve its online campaign finance reporting, as well as lobbyist registration and overall elections management and reporting. Future upgrades could include candidate registration, absentee ballot management and geographic information system mapping of voting districts.
When it comes to voter turnout, however, Denney doesn’t have any major tweaks in mind.
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“What really drives turnout is who and what is on the ballot,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything you can really do to address it. You can’t force people to be responsible.”
Democratic challenger Jill Humble, by contrast, has made voter turnout a central part of her campaign.
“I think (turnout) is very important, and it will be an important focus for me,” she said. “Democracy only works if people participate.”
Humble, who recently turned 70, worked as a registered nurse and hospital administrator for much of her life. She and her husband moved to Idaho in 2004.
She’s proposing several changes to help increase voter participation, including automatic registration of 18-year-olds and the expanded use of vote by mail. She also supports permanent absentee ballots, which voters can request once, rather than having to renew the request every year as is currently the case.
“As secretary of state, I feel making it easy to register and vote is my responsibility,” Humble said. “And there are barriers right now.”
Denney, who also is 70, farmed near Midvale for much of his life. He also served 20 years in the Idaho House, including six as speaker. He said registering and voting in Idaho actually are pretty easy.
“You can register online or by mail; you can register at the polls. There’s early voting and absentee voting. I think at some point you have to say you’ve done everything you can to make it easy,” he said.
Denney isn’t sure how automatic registration of 18-year-olds would work, and has security and legal questions about implementing a vote-by-mail system.
“I’m not sure its constitutional,” he said. “Article VI, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution says you’re guaranteed a secret ballot, and I don’t know how you do that if you send it through the mail.”
Overall, Denney said he’d like another four-year term as secretary so he can continue to implement some of the process improvements he started, such as the election-system upgrade.
“I think I’ve done a good job as secretary and have the background and experience to continue,” he said.
Humble said she thinks more can be done with the office.
“I have experience in looking at systems, seeing where they’re breaking down and improving them to meet the needs of the people,” she said.