By Richard Larsen
It’s difficult for me to understand how Bannock County is always, embarrassingly, the last county in the state to report election results. It’s also difficult to explain away so many seemingly minor problems in vote processing by the county as “human error,” as if that excuses lapses in security or protocol, or the actual count.
Such “human errors” were in abundance for the election two weeks ago. Perhaps the most egregious is the absentee ballot discrepancy. The clerk’s office has been very accommodating to local party officials in facilitating party workers involvement in vote counting. This is done to ensure transparency and accuracy, and is really a blessing for election officials as well as the voters.
According to the county’s reports, there were a total of 23,916 total candidate ballots cast and 23,351 issues ballots cast. Of those totals, there were 3,694 candidate ballots cast absentee and 3,622 issues ballots cast absentee. That represents 15.45% absentee candidate ballots and 15.51% absentee issues ballots. Yet when they were counted by the party workers, all six, who had meticulously maintained vote count records, agreed and certified there were 3,493 absentee candidate ballots tallied. That’s a differential of 201 additional votes.
All absentee ballots are held in “cans” that are sealed with serialized tape to ensure no tampering is possible. The party workers who tallied the absentee ballots had completely emptied those cans before they counted them and inspected them again before they were closed by the election staff. Yet mysteriously another batch of 25 ballots surfaced. They seemed to be in good order as the inner security envelopes were intact, but where did those 25 ballots come from?
Speaking of the serialized security tape, some of the post-tabulation containers had masking tape with penned letters on them, as elections officials indicated they had run out of the serialized security tape on election night. Yet six days after the election, more of the security tape surfaced for use on the box the discovered 25 absentee ballot were later stored in. One would think that there would be sufficient forethought to have enough security tape for proper sealing of all the absentee ballots containers. It’s troublesome that all of the other ballot containers were properly secured, while ten of the absentee ballot containers only had lettered masking tape on them.
There were several reports of voters who showed up at the polls to vote, only to be informed that they had already voted absentee. One such voter from Lava Hot Springs, pressed the issue with the poll workers insisting she had not voted absentee. A county election official informed the poll workers that it was in error, as there was someone with a similar name who had voted absentee, so they should allow the Lava voter to vote. The problem is, the four with the same last name all live in Pocatello and had requested mail-in ballots weeks before.
Also, according to several observers, when the test count batches were run through the tabulation machines, the counts showed significant anomalies. They reshuffled the ballots and got another set of results. Finally, the system reported accurate results off of the test batch, but not without raising some questions of the programming of the voting machine.
It has been reported by some whose family members are deployed in the military that they were not able to vote absentee. Instead of receiving a ballot from the county, they received a nicel letter explaining that they couldn’t get the ballot to them in time to be counted. Perhaps their ballot requests were not submitted in time, but it would be good to know the timeline for military requests. Of all our citizens, they are least deserving of disenfranchisement.
While those directly overseeing the elections locally seem committed to complete transparency and integrity in the process, somewhere along the line that integrity is obviously breaking down. If all was working as it should, there would not be inconsistent counts from the test ballots, there would not be discrepancies in the absentee balloting, there would not be mysterious surfacing of uncounted absentee ballots, there would not be people turned away at the polls for reportedly voting absentee when they had not, and there would not be mysterious surfacing of serialized seals for ensuring security. Yes, these are all obviously attributable to human error, but the question all of us need answered is whether it’s intentional, accidental, or due to ineptitude.
In our banking system we expect complete transparency and accuracy in accounting for our deposits. In my industry, every penny of every client’s money is accounted for and safeguards are in place to ensure accuracy, accountability and security. Don’t our ballots and our votes deserve that same treatment?
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