Dems hear from county’s elections officials

Nancy Grindstaff
 With candidacy filing for elected positions in as many as 13 local taxing districts beginning on Monday, Aug. 28, Washington County voters could see a plethora of ballots in the Nov. 7 off-year election. That is, if there is more than one candidate running for each of the seats up for election. (See the Signal American legal notices on the newspaper’s website and in today’s issue on pages 12 and 13). 
 During last week’s regular monthly Washington County Democrats meeting, Washington County Clerk’s office elections experts spoke and answered questions about the new legislation that passed in the 2023 legislature. Additionally, they gave details about the complexities of managing elections for an even larger number of districts than those in the upcoming fall election.  
 Current chief elections clerk Michelle Hagans was joined by Kelly Loos, who had held the position for about 10 years before moving into a different role in the office.  
 As background, during the 2023 legislative session one of the state’s four consolidated election dates was eliminated beginning in 2024 after the passage of two separate House bills. 
 The first, House Bill 138, moving the state’s once every four-years March presidential primary to the May consolidated election date passed in mid-February and was signed into law by Governor Brad Little on March 30. By consolidating those elections, the state is expected to save about $2.7 million in election expenses every four years.
 A follow-up Senate trailer bill allowing candidates to file to run in the state’s presidential primary in May wasn’t addressed in the House before the legislature adjourned, and, at least for now, next spring’s Idaho presidential nominations will be decided in party caucuses.
 The March election date was completely eliminated with the passage of House Bill 292 in mid-March, which promises property tax cuts through the state’s setting up a “school district facilities fund.” For the most part, the March election date was used almost exclusively for school districts to put bonds and levies to a vote by their constituents. 
 Hagans told those in attendance the March election date’s elimination will be a cost savings at both the state and county level.
 Administering off-year elections for the myriad of local taxing districts includes the complexities of a variety of geographical boundaries, some of them partially overlapping between districts and zones. Often, though, elections don’t make it to the ballot because only a single candidate has filed.
 “In Idaho, with our taxing districts, if only one person fills out a declaration of candidacy, we don’t need to have an election,” Hagans explained. “It does save us money, and the same could happen with some of these (13) districts.”
 Three cities, three fire districts, three cemetery districts, and four school districts, each with one or more board positions up for election. The fourth school district in Washington County is actually a sliver of one zone in Payette’s school district. Electors in school districts are limited to voting only the ballot related to the zone in which they live.
 “This can be very confusing,” Loos added. “Candidates have to get signatures from the district number where they live, but everyone in the entire district gets to vote on it. It’s different with the school board members. That gets really confusing for voters because you only get a ballot if you live within that trustee zone. That’s where the handing out of ballots gets a little interesting and a little different than the other taxing districts.
 “So, school zones are very specific in that, you have to live in your trustee zone, you have to get your signatures from that zone (for candidacy filing), and you are only going to get a ballot if you live in that zone,” Loos said, adding with a smile, “So, now, try to order ballots based on that. The taxing district elections are the most complicated for the clerk’s office, and this is why. One size does not fit all.”
 Among a variety of duties in the clerk’s elections division, by state law and following every fourth general election the county is required to purge voters who haven’t participated in a full four election cycles from the county’s voter registration rolls.
 “The purge doesn’t happen all of the time,” Hagans said. “It only happens after a general election in an even year, and you have to have not voted for four years.”
 Loos described the purge as a safety net.
 “You hear things like ‘Oh, dead people are voting,’ so it’s cleaning up our voter rolls,” she said. “It’s very, very simple to register to vote again, so if you haven’t voted for a few years, it’s keeping track of our voters. I hear it in a bad realm a lot of times, but we don’t just take voters out. It’s a way for us to clean up the system. A lot of times it is someone who has passed away in that timeframe.”
 As well, if a voter changes addresses, they are required to re-register in order to vote.
 With an Open Primaries Idaho ballot initiative signature gathering beginning, Hagans emphasized the importance of making sure signers are registered voters at their current address.
 “Make sure you put the correct date,” Hagans said. “Make sure they put the city they live in.”
 “What we’ve seen, if someone doesn’t put their physical address, the next person just follows suit,” Loos added. “We look carefully at every signature. 
 “We understand signatures change, things happen, but if it’s completely different we call and find out why,” she said.
 Hagans emphasized that petitioners are attesting that they have watched when the petition is signed.
 “If you have a petition with the possibility of 20 signatures, but only five are valid because of all these other reasons, you’ve just worked hard for a small benefit,” she said.


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