Zone 3 race will likely see recount
Teton County released incomplete election results on the night of Nov. 2. The totals did not include absentee ballots, meaning the actual unofficial results of the election changed in two races.
County clerk Kim Keeley described it as "a miscommunication between the elections director" and herself.
The problem came down to human error, she explained. The county is in the process of onboarding a new ballot program, specifically for the purpose of weeding out the potential for human error. However, that Ballot on Demand election system was not in place for absentee voting, because the software company hadn't set it up yet, meaning those ballots were still issued by hand.
Absentee ballots, documentation from the county proves, were counted by 8:05 p.m. on Nov 2. However, because of the combining of two different systems (and result tallies), Keeley, who was accustomed to receiving one sheet that had all the results on it, did not add the absentee and day-of votes before entering the supposed results into the Idaho Secretary of State's website.
While state statute requires a county clerk to submit a full election abstract (a breakdown of all precincts and absentee vs. day-of voting) the night of the election for county, state, and federal elections, that is not required for city or other taxing district elections.
"If I had done the abstract last night I would have caught it," Keeley said ruefully, adding that Tuesday was a 16-hour workday. Neither she nor the auditor, responsible for double checking all her work, caught the omission of the absentee numbers, 472 ballots in an election where 1,547 people voted.
"I feel confident these results are right and were counted correctly, they just didn't get added together last night," Keeley said. "It was a big mistake because it erodes public trust, but it's such a simple error."
She spent Wednesday morning calling candidates to alert them of the discrepancy, then put the updated results online. The results are not official until they are certified by the board of county commissioners next Monday, Nov. 8. After that, there is a 20-day protest period in which candidates can request a recount.
While the results of the Victor council race and ballot initiative and the Driggs mayoral race remained the same, the school board and Driggs council race look different now.
Last night it appeared that candidates Kathleen Haar and Jeannette Boner had lost the school board race. This morning, however, with absentee ballots included in the total, Haar gained a considerable margin over incumbent Jake Kunz in the Zone 4 race, while Boner fell only four votes short to Ray Hinchcliff in the Zone 3 race. She will be requesting a recount of votes. According to Idaho Statute 34-2309, a losing candidate may request a recount if the margin is less than or equal to one-tenth of one percent of the total votes cast, or five votes, whichever is greater. The county is responsible for paying for that recount. If a candidate who lost by a greater margin requests a recount, that candidate is responsible for the cost of the recount.
Unfortunately, Keeley said, the error happened only days after the county discovered that a couple voters in Driggs had received the wrong ballot. Those two voters alerted the county to the issue, and after a full audit of absentee ballots, Keeley discovered that two more voters had been issued incorrect ballots, due to a similarity in ballot coding between District 4/Zone 4 (a ballot for City of Driggs and school board) and Zone 4 (a ballot merely for school board). Only the Zone 4 school board race was impacted by the two incorrect ballots, which would not have changed the outcome of the race.
In the Driggs City Council race, Erika Earles and Scott Stuntz appeared to have each won a four-year term last night. In the new results, however, Earles and incumbent Miles Knowles are tied with 222 votes each. Driggs city code does not appear to have guidance for a tied election. In some Idaho cities a tie is broken with a coin toss; in 2003 just such a game of chance was played to determine who would be the mayor of Tetonia. No decision will be made in the case of the Driggs race until the results are certified.
What about all those ballots? After being counted on Election Day, ballots are stored in a sealed, locked box and placed in a locked vault. After the results are canvassed, if a recount is approved, the sheriff will take possession of the ballots until the recount occurs.
"My biggest wish is for people to trust elections," Keeley said. "This is unfortunate because it puts a big question mark over election integrity."
This story is still developing. Teton Valley News will continue to follow up with candidates about the election.