Boner concedes, mourns low voter participation 

The Driggs coin toss wasn’t the only unusual election event that happened last week. On Thursday, Nov. 18, Teton County performed a recount for the Zone 3 school board race, a methodical 2.5-hour process that yielded the same results as Election Day.

The Recount

At 10 a.m. on Thursday, Chief Deputy Bridger Smith, sheriff’s office administrative manager Mitch Golden, and county auditor Todd Waller carried sealed, locked boxes of ballots from the sheriff’s office into the commissioners chambers of the courthouse, where four election recount judges, Janette Burr, John Schroeder, Jack Haddox, and Cheryl Copeland, waited. County prosecutor Bailey Smith, elections director Jenifer Shaum, and clerk Kim Keeley were also present.

Candidate Jeannette Boner and a few supporters observed the painstaking process, as did Bob Foster, who was there to represent apparent winner Ray Hinchcliff.

Boner requested the recount after losing the race by only four votes in an election that saw some discrepancies, including a handful of early voters receiving the incorrect absentee ballot, and an incomplete results report on Election Night. Due to the slim margin of the race, the county will pay for the recount.

Following procedures laid out by state law, the recount judges carefully divided the ballots into piles based on zone and precinct. With two school board races and municipal races in Driggs and Victor, this year’s election had ten different ballot types, or faces. The judges triple-checked that each pile only included the correct face, then began to hand count 100 of the Zone 3 ballots under the watchful eye of Foster and Boner. After running those 100 through the tabulator in batches of 25 and coming out with a machine total that matched the hand count, they fed the rest of the 500-plus ballots into the tabulator.

The counters took one short break but no individual was ever left alone with the ballots.

When all the ballots had been tabulated, multiple copies of the results report were printed and distributed to the judges and observers. The tally showed, once again, that Hinchcliff had received 257 votes and Boner had received 253.

After the count was declared complete by the prosecutor, the sheriff’s office again took possession of the ballots. A 24-hour appeal period started at around 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, but passed uneventfully, and the election result was affirmed: Hinchcliff will replace outgoing trustee Ben Kearsley on the school board.

Discrepancies

After the Nov. 2 election, Zone 4 trustee and candidate Jake Kunz had also requested a recount. Kunz, who appeared to have won the race based on misleading initial results, learned on Nov. 3 that his opponent Kathleen Haar had won by 50 votes. Some voters in Zone 4 had received the incorrect absentee ballots, but the clerk’s office determined that not enough were wrong to change the outcome of the race. Kunz asked for a recount because he was concerned about the integrity of the election, but said he later withdrew his request because the county would not pay for a recount, since the margin was greater than five votes.

Although other anecdotes of disenfranchisement circulated on social media and a few of the candidates asked their supporters to report any voting issues they had personally experienced, county clerk Kim Keeley said that her office had received no further reports of incorrect ballots. However, on the morning of the recount Jeannette Boner alerted Keeley to two voters who had mistakenly received a Zone 3 ballot on Election Day.

After the recount, the clerk’s office again reviewed the voting numbers and confirmed that two people who had registered to vote on Election Day had their addresses input incorrectly by poll workers, which caused the Ballot on Demand automated system to issue them the wrong ballot.

According to a press release from Teton County that came out Thursday afternoon, those two were the only improperly issued ballots in Zone 3, and because the total wasn’t enough to affect the outcome, the discovery could not overturn the election.

Keeley said her office is reviewing and refining its processes for future elections. In 2022, the Ballot on Demand automated system will be implemented for early voting as well as day-of voting, which Keeley expects will remove potential for human error in issuing absentee ballots.

“The Election Day issues all involved same day registrations, and we are taking a close look at how the errors were made and how to avoid them in the future,” she added.

Concession

On Friday morning, Boner announced on her campaign Facebook page that she would not appeal the recount. She thanked the community for its work and support, but expressed regret at the low voter turnout in a race decided by only a handful of votes.

“In the end, it’s ultimately up to the voter to go to the polls and pull the lever. It feels sad to think that so many left their votes on the table, regardless of who they would have voted for,” Boner wrote.

In addition to causing mistakes in the ballot issuing process, the irregular overlap of precincts and school board zones seems to have confused voters and possibly depressed turnout. While the Teton County election abstract does not show school board zone-specific turnout, according to the elections director, out of the 1,299 registered voters eligible to participate in the Zone 3 election, 510 people voted, or nearly 40 percent.

Boner concluded by saying that she would remain involved and engaged with the school district. “I’m left feeling and knowing that despite not having a seat on the board, we as a community have so much power and energy to pull together to realize unimaginable success for our students and our teachers and staff.”

Ray Hinchcliff and Zone 4 winner Kathleen Haar will be sworn in as trustees in January.

“I am excited to serve on the Teton District 401 School Board and work for the benefit of our schools,” Hinchcliff wrote in an email to the Teton Valley News after the recount. “Jeannette and I ran positive campaigns in a zone comprised of people who care about the education of our children. Even though the election process may not be perfect, there are sufficient checks and balances to ensure an equitable outcome.”