Shadow over elections
Staff Writer | November 13, 2021 1:08 AM
A series of private investigations into the security of Kootenai County elections are personally offensive, serious and in some respects unfounded, Clerk Jim Brannon said Friday.
Readers and online accounts of door-knockers going around neighborhoods inquiring about absentee ballots made their way to The Press newsroom on Friday.
"There are supposedly people going around asking about absentee voting, supposedly investigating voter fraud," Brannon told The Press. "We have gotten calls about it, and we tell people no, they're not with the elections office."
Kootenai County Republican Central Committee Chairman Brent Regan said Friday the organization is not involved in the door-knocking. Regan said he knew nothing about the absentee ballot investigation other than noticing a few comments on social media.
In total, 10,760 absentee ballots were mailed to Kootenai County residents who had requested one for the November election. Brannon said 8,674 absentee ballots were returned and counted, making up 24.8% of the total votes counted on Nov. 2.
Not all absentee ballots were counted, including:
• 240 individuals who "spoiled" their absentee ballot by voting in person, canceling the mailed document
• 234 absentee ballots that arrived at the elections office after the 8 p.m. deadline Nov. 2
• 38 which were rejected because the voter signature did not match
• 4 which were dismissed due to residency eligibility
When asked if absentee voting is a safe and accurate means to vote, Brannon said: "That's a one-word answer: Yes."
Once the office receives an absentee ballot, staff compare every signature before tabulating the document. All are further reviewed during the statutorily required canvas to ensure the results are accurate.
Brannon said there were no irregularities found during the November canvas.
"Every election I have run has been fair and accurate," Brannon said. "To imply otherwise implies I am either a crook or incompetent."
Dave Eubanks, a Hayden resident and former Coeur d'Alene school board member, told The Press he witnessed a Precinct 19 poll worker offering a voter anti-critical race theory literature after handing them a ballot last week.
Per Idaho Code 18-2318, on the day of any election, no person inside or within 100 feet of a polling place can "do any electioneering." By statute, electioneering includes the circulation of "cards or handbills of any kind."
Anyone found to be electioneering can be punished with a fine of up to $1,000 and arrested.
Brannon affirmed his condemnation of the poll worker's actions on Friday. He also reminded the public that poll workers "do a great job, and they are unsung heroes" who ensure the integrity of local elections.
"We had 69 of 70 precincts that worked beautifully," Brannon said. "The people who work 14-hour days should get some recognition for their good work."
When a complaint like Eubanks' occurs, Brannon urges voters to contact the elections office to file a formal report immediately. As of Friday, Brannon said both he and Eubanks had submitted an official complaint.
Brannon submitted his report to Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh, who will forward the complaint to Sheriff Bob Norris for investigation. Eubanks filed with Norris on Friday, according to Brannon.
"I refer (complaints) to the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over the location the conduct is alleged to have taken place … who would take on the investigation," McHugh told The Press. "They send the report to me for review for a decision, and then we go from there."
Complaints are not uncommon, said McHugh, who has served as county prosecutor for 12 years. However, he said the issue typically regards financial disclosure, campaign signs and other statutory guidelines. Only "occasionally" has McHugh seen "electioneering questions come up."
"My office hasn't prosecuted any case related to electioneering," he said.
The Maple Street Community Church hosted both precincts 19 and 17. None of the ballots at either district included school board candidates, Brannon said.
"There were no school board elections in either of those two precincts, which doesn't make it any less erroneous, but that is a fact," he said.
Brannon further pointed out that the county's 69 other polling places worked "beautifully" and that "one bad apple doesn't spoil the whole bunch." He added that recruiting poll workers was challenging this year because of COVID-19, and he hopes this incident doesn't encourage more resignations.
"If this ends up being a witch hunt for poll workers, it's going to affect the elections moving forward," Brannon said. "We had one person out of 70 precincts. I don't think that it's fair to paint all the poll workers with a bad brush.
"People give a full day to serve their country and go to work at the polling places. I encourage people to come to watch as a poll watcher on election evening to see how hard these people work to make sure our constitutional republic is protected."