Driggs race will be decided with a coin toss
There still isn’t a clear resolution on the results of last week’s school board and Driggs City Council election. The 24-hour period after the polls closed was described by multiple candidates as an emotional roller coaster due to two close races, some mistakenly issued ballots, and a big reporting error on Tuesday night.
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 explained that the error in reporting was a simple mistake. 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 together 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 on Wednesday, 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 continued. “It was a big mistake because it erodes public trust, but it’s such a simple error.”
The results released on Wednesday morning meant a different outcome for two races: the school board Zone 4 race between Jake Kunz and Kathleen Haar, and the three-candidate race for two Driggs City Council seats.
The incomplete results on Tuesday night showed Kunz leading with 208 votes to Haar’s 194. The complete results told a different story: Haar had 345 votes to Kunz’s 295.
In the Zone 3 race between Ray Hinchcliff and Jeannette Boner, the first report showed Hinchcliff as having received 202 votes and Boner having received 174, while the complete report showed that Hinchcliff had 257 votes to Boner’s 253.
According to Idaho statute, 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. With such a slim margin in the Zone 3 race, Boner will be requesting a recount.
“I think it’s an important part of the public process,” Boner said. “I believe that Ray’s voters deserve a recount and that my voters deserve a recount.”
The situation is complicated by the fact that in the days leading up to the election, the county discovered that at least a couple early voters in Driggs had received the wrong ballot. After a full audit of absentee ballots, according to a Nov. 2 press release from the county, Keeley discovered that two more voters had been issued incorrect ballots, due to a similarity in ballot coding between Precinct 4/Zone 4 (a ballot for City of Driggs and school board) and Zone 4 (a ballot merely for school board).
On Nov. 8, Keeley told the Teton Board of County Commissioners that actually four people had voted with the incorrect ballot. Only the Zone 4 school board race was impacted by the mistake, she said, but there weren’t enough incorrect ballots to change the outcome of the race.
Jake Kunz said last Friday that he had formally requested a recount as well, and requested that the county pay for it, citing negligence and inconsistency in the election.
“My main frustration is not with the results, but how the election was handled,” Kunz said. “I always teach my kids to be good winners but better losers, which I try to live by as well.”
He added that he appreciates everyone who participated in the election process, regardless of the outcome. “We have a great school district and great leadership. I want to congratulate the new board members, and I do believe we’ll have a good, functioning school board at the end of this.”
This is not the first time that Zone 4 has seen ballot errors; in the 2017 school board election, Haar beat Delwyn Jensen by five votes but some voters on the border of the zone did not receive the correct ballot. Because the number of disenfranchised voters was larger than the margin in the race, the election was held again and resulted in a different outcome.
Haar said on Sunday that she is encouraging anyone who experienced anything unexpected in the voting process to send a written statement directly to the county clerk’s office.
“This puts an incident into the record and provides the first-hand information needed for the clerk’s office to follow up,” she said.
She added that she was grateful for the support she received and is looking forward to playing a part on the school board. “As it turns out, I will be able to get a jump-start on this by attending the Idaho School Boards Association Convention with the current board. Because new trustees do not take office until January 1, I will be paying all costs of attendance myself.”
Meanwhile, in the Driggs City Council race, Erika Earles and Scott Stuntz appeared to have each won a four-year term on the evening of Election Day. Once the complete results were released, however, Earles and incumbent Miles Knowles were tied with 222 votes each. Driggs city code does not have guidance for a tied election, so the city attorney has confirmed that the tie will be broken with a coin toss. This won’t be a first for Teton Valley; in 2003 a coin toss determined who would serve as the new mayor of Tetonia. Once the results are certified by the county commissioners, Driggs will hold a special meeting for the coin toss within six days of the canvass.
The county commissioners were scheduled to canvass the election results on Monday, Nov. 8, but Keeley told the commissioners at Monday’s meeting that her office was still “working through the process for closing out the election.” The board is now planning to canvass the results on the morning of Friday, Nov. 12 at 8 a.m. After the results are certified, a recount can be held.
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. Once the results are certified, if a recount is approved, the sheriff will take possession of the ballots until the recount occurs.