Clerk: 24 ballots inadmissible

Nineteen were county residents voting in Coeur d'Alene election

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COEUR d'ALENE - The Kootenai County Clerk's Office said 24 inadmissible ballots were cast in the Nov. 8 elections.

Kootenai County commissioners adopted the canvass results for all municipal elections, from Athol to Worley, on Nov. 17. Nineteen of those inadmissible ballots were cast by county residents who voted in the Coeur d'Alene's election, Kootenai County Clerk Cliff Hayes said.

Coeur d'Alene City Councilman Mike Kennedy, meanwhile, points to those errors as vindication for former County Clerk Dan English, who was side-by-side with Kennedy during the heavily litigated 2009 general election challenge.

Hayes, though, said he can't compare anything to 2009. He was elected in 2010, after the suit was filed.

"We told them we made some mistakes, the poll workers made some mistakes," Hayes said he told the commissioners at the canvass meeting. "But they work for me, so that means I made some mistakes."

Overall, Hayes said, "99 percent was great, and 1 percent not great" as far as how all the elections went.

"There's always room for improvement," he said. "But I'd say overall it went pretty well."

Hayes is calling for Kennedy to apologize for when the councilman said Hayes committed "dereliction of duty" by not being at last week's City Council meeting.

At that meeting, the city was to enter the county-adopted canvass into its meeting minutes per Idaho code. Kennedy said Hayes should have had "the presence of mind" to attend the meeting to answer questions should they arise.

Hayes wrote a letter Monday to Mayor Sandi Bloem and the City Council clarifying that the law change in Idaho mandates counties to run municipal elections, and therefore the county adopts the canvass.

He said he would have shown up, had the city invited him, and that he provided several pages of information on the election results to the city - more than the "two pages of results" as Kennedy stated.

The City Council packet included several pages of canvass results from the clerk's office.

It's the first city election since the law changed that mandates counties run municipal elections. Coeur d'Alene used to contract out its election to the county.

"It is disappointing that city staff, particularly the city administrator and the city attorney, were not aware of the city's legal responsibilities in this matter," Hayes wrote, calling Kennedy's questioning "offensive, and below the decorum standard expected of an elected official."

Kennedy said Monday he was only asking questions in an official capacity, and didn't intend to apologize.

"Are they going to apologize to Dan English?" he wrote The Press. "They tried to destroy Dan's character for the same (or lesser) human mistakes."

Hayes won the clerkship in 2010 over English, campaigning in part on correcting the errors the office was accused of committing during the 2009 election. Those errors were a central part of the election challenge lawsuit, which focused on inadmissible ballots in Kennedy's then 5-vote win over challenger Jim Brannon.

The weeklong trial pinpointed six illegal voters, and four votes were tossed out, leaving Kennedy with a 3-vote win. That case is waiting to go before the Idaho Supreme Court. Following the trial, three of those voters were fined $200 and put on three months of unsupervised probation for casting the illegal ballots.

"There's nothing to be done. The person comes in, they sign the poll book, they vote," Hayes said. "Luckily the races were all more than 24 votes."

He said he couldn't compare it to 2009 because there isn't a way of knowing exactly how many ballots could have been counted as inadmissible then, regardless of what came out of the court case.

"You're going to have potential errors anytime you involve people with the tallying of thousands of ballots," Hayes said.

Errors are human nature, Kennedy agreed, which is why the latest round of mishaps vindicates English. He estimates the total costs of the election challenge, including city and county staff time, at $250,000. He called the suit a political attack.

Brannon declined to comment Monday.

English said the clerk office's report of the errors was nice from the public awareness aspect that lets the public know election mistakes can happen. He also said Hayes' canvass detail was "a nice comprehensive summary."

"It doesn't matter who the clerk is, this stuff can happen," English said. "I commend his effort."

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