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County absentee ballots hit 20,000

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | April 27, 2020 1:00 AM

The Kootenai County Elections Office is about to reach a statistically stunning milestone after the coronavirus turned an ordinary primary election into an all-absentee calamity.

By today, elections officials calculate their office will have sent out more than 20,000 absentee ballots to Kootenai County voters, with more than three weeks to go before the May 19 election.

“We are sending out roughly two batches per week,” said chief deputy clerk Jennifer Locke. “Each batch is usually between 2,000 to 4,700 ballots. Our largest batch has been just over 4,700.”

Gov. Brad Little’s March 30 decision to make the May 19 election all-absentee came after his stay-home order made any in-person election logistically impossible. Since then, election offices around the state — including Kootenai County’s Third Street offices in Coeur d’Alene — have been rushing to get ballots out as fast as requests come in. So far, Locke approximates roughly 2,700 have been returned.

For the primary two springs ago, the county sent out just over 4,000 total absentee ballots, a number dwarfed by this election’s figures. And that 20,164 ballots mailed out so far is by no means the final number; a total of 88,282 voters are registered in the county, up 11,302 from May 2018.

Things are about to get busier. The office is preparing a mailer from Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney that is due to go out to all registered voters who have not yet requested an absentee ballot. Locke said she anticipates the mailer will drive phone calls and ballot requests, adding that while the Elections Office is ready for the influx, she is asking for the citizenry’s patience.

“We are very busy, but we have had help from other county department employees every day,” Locke said. “We are truly grateful in their willingness to help and their positive attitudes. Our spirits are high because all of us go home every day with a feeling of accomplishment in knowing the service we are providing to the citizens of this county.”

Those who wish to vote must request a ballot either at the Elections Office or by going to idahovotes.gov to request a ballot. Voters have until June 2 to return the ballot either by mail or in person.

This story has been updated to accurately give the last day to return a ballot as June 2.