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Idaho voter registration lawsuits in limbo: Unraveling the latest in voting legal battles

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Idaho voter registration lawsuits in limbo: Unraveling the latest in voting legal battles

Nov 13, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Mia Maldonado
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Idaho voter registration lawsuits in limbo: Unraveling the latest in voting legal battles
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After House Bills 124 and 340 passed in the Idaho Legislature in 2023, two lawsuits are challenging the constitutionality of the new laws. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

A lawsuit challenging new voter registration laws in Idaho was originally scheduled for a court trial this week, but after Ada County Judge Samuel Hoagland dismissed the case in October, the plaintiffs are appealing to the Idaho Supreme Court.

Babe Vote and the League of Women Voters filed the lawsuit in March against Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane alleging that House Bills 124 and 340, which passed during the 2023 legislative session, violate young Idahoan’s constitutional right to equal protection and the right to suffrage under the Idaho Constitution.

House Bill 124 removes student identification cards as an acceptable form of personal identification to vote on Election Day, and it does not take effect until January. 

House Bill 340 has been in effect since July, and it changed ways individuals could have registered to vote before Tuesday’s election.

The law was passed with the goal to create uniformity in the types of photo identification and proof of residency requirements needed upon registering to vote, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. Prior to the changes, there were different requirements depending upon whether a person registered in person, mail or online.

House Bill 340 also created no fee ID cards offered by the Idaho Transportation Department for people age 18 and older who have not had a driver’s license in the previous six months.

Babe Vote Idaho Student ID lawsuit
College of Idaho student Saumya Sarin, center, and other Babe Vote volunteers spoke in opposition to a new law eliminating the use of student IDs for voting during a March 17, 2023, press conference at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

That no-fee ID card is accepted for voter registration and voting requirements in the recent election. According to data obtained from the Secretary of State’s office, 73 people in Idaho had obtained the no-fee ID cards as of October.

On Tuesday, the plaintiffs filed a brief with the Idaho Supreme Court to appeal their case.

“The bills — HB 124 and HB 340 — specifically, and by design, target a disfavored group by imposing unnecessary barriers to voting,” the brief said. “This is impermissible by any measure under the Idaho Constitution.”

‘These laws cause barriers’: Babe Vote worker says students, elderly are most vulnerable to new laws

Sam Sandmire, a board member with Babe Vote, works with registering people across the state to vote. In a phone interview, she said people without driver’s licenses are most vulnerable to the new voter registration law. 

“When I’m out, registering voters, I meet these people because we try to go to places where there are vulnerable populations,” she said. “We come in contact with these people, so it’s hard for me to justify further restrictions.”

After House Bill 340 passed, Babe Vote announced it had suspended its voter registration drives. Sandmire said the organization suspended those drives because volunteers could no longer help everyone complete their voter registration. 

“Before House Bill 340, volunteers could have people fill out a voter registration card, and on that card they could put either their Idaho driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security card,” she said. “Then the volunteer would turn in that card, and the clerks would check the records and register the voters.”

House Bill 340 requires people to provide their residency upon registration, and it requires one of the following to prove their identity:

  • A current Idaho driver’s license or state identification card.
  • A current U.S. passport or federal identification card.
  • A current tribal identification card.
  • A current Idaho concealed weapons license. 

Sandmire said there are nuances that the law does not consider. She said students moving to Idaho for school, renters with new addresses, or elderly people who moved to care facilities and no longer drive all face the most challenges when registering to vote.

“People sometimes don’t have a lot to their name, but what they do have is a fundamental right to vote guaranteed in Idaho’s constitution,” she said. “For someone who’s houseless, that might be all they have.”

With motion to appeal case, what are the next steps in the Babe Vote v. McGrane lawsuit?

While people were able to use their student IDs to vote at the polls last Tuesday, Matthew Gordon, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the Idaho Capital Sun that he is hopeful the Idaho Supreme Court will rule on the appeal before House Bill 124’s January 1 effective date.

The plaintiffs are asking the Idaho Supreme Court to reverse the Ada County judge’s decision to dismiss the case and enter judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor or allow the case to continue at the district court.

If the court decides to reverse the Ada County judge’s decision, the court could enter judgment in the plaintiffs’ favor, or it could allow the case to continue at the district court, he said.

On Dec. 11, the parties in this case will present an oral argument to the Idaho Supreme Court.

Before outlawed, how many people used student IDs on Election Day?

Chelsea Carattini, the spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, told the Sun that the new laws required educating poll workers on the changes and the office was closely monitoring issues with the new changes throughout the voter registration process. 

While student IDs will soon no longer an acceptable form of personal identification to vote on Election Day, data from the Secretary of State’s office shows that at least 27 Idaho voters used their student ID to vote Tuesday. 

Carattini said that 32 of Idaho’s counties use epollbooks for voter check-in, so the data on student IDs does not include all 43 counties that held an election, but it does include all the largest counties and the majority of voters.

The 27 voters who used student IDs at the polls came from seven counties:

  • 10 Ada
  • 5 Madison
  • 4 Kootenai
  • 4 Latah
  • 2 Canyon
  • 1 Blaine
  • 1 Twin Falls

Three of the 27 individuals voted early, and the rest used student IDs on Election Day.

Here is the age range of voters who used student IDs in Nov. 7 election:

  • 22 of voters were between ages 18-34
  • Three voters were between ages 35-49
  • One voter was in the 50-64 age range
  • One voter was above the age of 65

Secretary of State celebrates Ada County court dismissal

After Hoagland dismissed the lawsuit, the Secretary of State’s Office said in a press release that it was grateful for a successful resolution to the case. 

“Voter registration is an important first step to being engaged in the democratic process,” McGrane said. “This legislation helped address inconsistencies in our law in an effort to build confidence in Idaho’s elections. I firmly believe that ensuring access to voting and maintaining security in elections are not conflicting goals. We have a great elections system here in Idaho, and it was great to see that affirmed in this case.”

McGrane said he prioritizes security and access in elections, and that Idahoans can vote knowing that everyone has met the same standard to register and cast a vote. 

“Our office looks forward to resuming our work with the League of Women Voters and Babe Vote to help get more Idahoans registered and engaged in our elections,” he said.

Similar lawsuit challenges voting laws in federal court

Similar to the Babe Vote lawsuit, March for Our Lives Idaho, a student-led mobilization organization, filed a suit in federal court because it believes the new laws violate the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

According to the 26th Amendment, “the right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.”

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office on behalf of McGrane filed a motion to dismiss the case, but federal District Judge Amanda Brailsford, denied that motion.  

Terri Pickens, the attorney representing March for Our Lives Idaho, said the case is fast-tracked because of the effective date of House Bill 124, which would remove student IDs as an option at the polls. 

“House Bill 124 and House Bill 340 are a major escalation of an ongoing effort by the Idaho Legislature to suppress growing political activism by young Idahoans,” she said. “They single out high school and college students in response to their successful organizing efforts and increasing political power.”

The lawsuit alleges that the two laws create barriers particularly for youth amid a wave of increasing youth political activism.

In particular, more 18 and 19-year-olds are registering to vote. According to data from the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office obtained Thursday, the number of 18 and 19-year-olds registered to vote increased from 6,456 in 2018 to 10,917 in 2022, indicating a 69% growth.

“It’s not coincidental that, at the same time, all of the young people who are of voting age or close to voting age are getting more involved because it’s their rights that are starting to be challenged the most in Idaho,” Pickens said. 

According to the federal lawsuit, the new laws make it difficult for March for Our Lives members to successfully register and turn youth out to vote. 

“Many are first-time voters and are unfamiliar with the process, and educating them on the requirements and obtaining acceptable identification in time for the election is often onerous,” the complaint said. 

Like the Babe Vote lawsuit, the federal lawsuit also points to the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that students have been fraudulently voting with student IDs. 

“There are a group of kids who do not have drivers’ licenses and do not have concealed carry permits,” she said. “It might not be hundreds of thousands of Idahoans, but frankly if one person who is otherwise eligible to vote can’t vote, it’s wrong.” 

Pickens said that in elections where two to three votes could make a difference in an election, registering to vote should be simple and accessible. 

“You think about the one or two people who were otherwise eligible to vote but couldn’t vote because they didn’t have a driver’s license or some other governmental ID,” she said. “Perhaps they had a student ID and they could have voted, but they were rejected at the polls, because their student ID was no longer a valid form of ID. It’s so critically important to let everybody who is eligible, ready, willing and able to show up to vote to vote.”