POST FALLS - Ron Johnson is rooting for satellite absentee voting centers to return to Kootenai County.
The Post Falls resident is among those who support a legislative proposal to revive the centers.
"As long as I knew about it, that was my preferred way of voting," Johnson said of the site at Post Falls City Hall. "It was handy and was a pleasant way of doing it. Any chance we can increase voting is a plus."
Kootenai County formerly had such satellite sites at city halls in Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls, Rathdrum and Hayden for 20-plus years before the Kootenai County Clerk's Office opted in 2011 to not have them to save money and for ballot security reasons.
Currently, the only in-person absentee voting site is at the county elections office in Coeur d'Alene.
However, the proposal would require counties of more than 100,000 residents such as Kootenai to have at least three sites.
"We've had interest from several counties about it," said Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, who floated the bill on the House side. "Voters love to vote in person and many can't make it on election day. This helps ensure people will vote."
Woodings said a similar bill is now in the works on the Senate side led by Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, that makes the additional voting sites a requirement only during the general election, not all elections as proposed with her House bill.
Woodings said she believes there's a better chance the proposal will be heard by committee if only the general election is included, so the Senate version will be the focus.
The proposal also requires counties with less than 25,000 residents to have at least one absentee center and counties with between 25,000 and 100,000 to have at least two.
The sites would be open at least five days a week and for 21 days before the election.
Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes said when the law changed two years ago to make the counties responsible for all election costs and consolidated elections, the satellite centers were dropped to save funding during tough times.
"It was going to cost several thousand dollars for each satellite poll," Hayes said in a telephone message. "I didn't see a need and wanted to save money."
Hayes earlier said voters can just as easily drive to the elections office on Third Street in Coeur d'Alene. He also earlier said that either all cities should have satellite centers or none of them should to be fair. He couldn't be reached for further comment on Friday.
County elections officials earlier said the 2009 Coeur d'Alene City Council race controversy involving Mike Kennedy's narrow victory over challenger Jim Brannon - and the court saga that followed - caused the county to be more cautious on how it handles ballots and was another reason for shutting down the satellite sites. They said the decision was not out of mistrust of city workers who manned the centers, but more of the public perception that ballots could be tampered with.
According to the legislative proposal, the cost to the counties to run an early voting center, including labor, rental, if applicable, and materials, is estimated to be between $5,000 and $7,500.
Johnson said city halls are open and being heated during the day anyway, so the county's cost to rent space for a center should be minimal. And the materials need to be printed regardless, he said. Post Falls, for instance, didn't charge the county for using the space when the center was there.
Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin said there's demand to bring the centers back.
"We have lost a very valuable election service tool," he said. "Our citizens are very upset that we do not offer this service locally anymore. We hear about it all the time. At a time when government becomes suspect to many, we need to show we are trying to accommodate their needs.
"We are supposed to be helping our citizens with services of this type, not making them (go to Coeur d'Alene). Many just say, 'To heck with it,' and don't vote."
Woodings said there's also a demand in Ada County, where that county's single early voting site had voters waiting in line for four hours during the last general election.
"Satellite centers are very convenient for voters," she said. "My interest in them is two-fold - shorter lines and geographically they're more convenient for voters to vote early."
Woodings said the proposal goes hand in hand with legislative efforts to simplify the early voting process for elections offices.