Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Poll worker found not guilty of electioneering

Staff Writer | September 8, 2022 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — A jury determined on Wednesday that a former poll worker accused of misconduct during last November’s local elections did not commit an illegal act.

After about an hour of deliberation, the jury found Hayden resident Laura L. Van Voorhees not guilty of electioneering, a misdemeanor offense.

The charge stems from Nov. 2, 2021, when Van Voorhees reportedly offered pamphlets printed with information about critical race theory to voters while she worked at the polls.

Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic concept. The central idea is that race is a social construct and that racism is not just a product of individual prejudice, but also embedded in legal systems and policies.

CRT is taught at the college level, particularly in law school.

Idaho’s electioneering law specifically forbids circulating “cards or handbills of any kind” within 100 feet of a polling place.

Kootenai County Elections Manager Asa Gray told the court that poll workers, including Van Voorhees, all go through training before Election Day. The volunteers receive instruction not to discuss political matters or “anything remotely related to ballot issues” at the polling place, he said.

No education-related items were on the ballots at the site where Van Voorhees volunteered, which encompassed two precincts.

In other precincts, three seats on the Coeur d’Alene School District board of trustees were on the ballot.

Van Voorhees said she helped create the pamphlets and brought them to the polling place. She said three candidates running in the school board races paid for the pamphlets and used the material in their campaigns.

She said the concept of CRT first came to her attention while her adult daughter attended college in California.

Her daughter reportedly stopped using plastic straws, bought an electric car and did not want to marry or have children — decisions Van Voorhees attributed to “communism” introduced via her daughter’s college education.

“She turned against me,” Van Voorhees said. “I haven’t talked to her in three years.”

Van Voorhees moved to Idaho from Kirkland, Wash., in February 2021. Months later, in May, she joined Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s “Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education,” which aims to root out alleged teachings of “critical race theory, communism and Marxism” in Idaho schools.

She said she attended school board meetings in Coeur d’Alene and distributed pamphlets in order to “warn” parents about CRT.

Van Voorhees maintained that she handed out just one pamphlet to a friend — also interested in “defeating” CRT in local schools — who voted at the polling place.

Multiple witnesses testified that they saw Van Voorhees give and offer the pamphlets to other voters at different times of day.

Denise Makinson, who supervised Van Voorhees and her fellow poll workers on Election Day, said she instructed Van Voorhees before polls opened not to give the pamphlets to voters.

She testified that she told Van Voorhees twice more that day to put the pamphlets away, where voters could not see them.

Van Voorhees said she made a “conscious decision” to bring the pamphlets into the polling place because she did not believe giving them to friends was inappropriate.

Electioneering is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.