Secretary of State Phil McGrane, left, testing an electronic poll book in Bingham County with election clerk Megan Kearsley. See what Bingham County is doing to ensure ballot security in the video above. | Video by Jordan Wood, EastIdahoNews.com
IDAHO FALLS – When it comes to election security in Idaho, Secretary of State Phil McGrane says voters can have confidence their vote will count in the ballot box.
McGrane and his staff took EastIdahoNews.com on a tour of election offices in Bonneville, Bingham and Bannock counties Tuesday as voters in each of those counties weighed in on school bonds and levies. (Each of the measures passed). The purpose of the tour was to highlight measures taken to ensure elections are secure. Bingham County officials showed us how the use of electronic poll books keep track of votes and prevent anyone from tampering with the process. Watch it in the video above.
EastIdahoNews.com file photo
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The number one reason people don’t vote is because they’re busy, McGrane says, and the fact that elections are on Tuesday isn’t convenient for most people. But that wasn’t always the case. In 1885, Congress passed a bill designating the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as election day. Horses were the primary mode of transportation at the time and most people needed a day to travel to their polling place. The History Channel reports weekends were impractical for holding elections because most people were in church on Sunday. Wednesday was market day for farmers. Tuesday was selected because it was the most convenient day for the majority of the population.
The cost of an election varies, depending on what type. In Idaho, McGrane says the cost of a presidential election is about $3 million. Elections are funded with property taxes.
Individual counties foot the bill for county, state and federal elections, according to McGrane. Elections at the city level are funded by the state.
A single-page ballot costs between 35 and 42 cents. A two-page ballot is around 65 cents. The number of registered voters per county, combined with voter turnout in previous elections, determines how many ballots are allotted for each election.
The 2020 primary election had the largest voter turnout in Idaho history. The reason for that, McGrane says, is because the Legislature passed a law allowing for early absentee voting and processing.
Election security has been an ongoing nationwide discussion in the wake of Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud after leaving office, and his subsequent indictments.
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Trump maintains there was fraud and election interference in Fulton County, Georgia, where officials stopped counting ballots on election night due to a broken water pipe and resumed the next day.
McGrane, who was sworn-in as Idaho’s 28th secretary of state in January and whose role is to oversee elections in the Gem State, tells EastIdahoNews.com Idaho law requires election workers to remain in the building until the tally is final and the process is complete.
Though Idaho law does allow for an extension of the ballot-counting process for certain situations, such as power outages or tabulation errors, it requires the approval of a judge to make it happen and is not a decision any election worker can make on their own in the moment.
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“Each of the 50 states determine their elections process, and as we’ve all been looking at it more closely, we’ve learned each state does things a little bit differently,” McGrane says.
While McGrane isn’t calling for any changes in the law for election workers, he points out if there is a problem with equipment or other issues needing outside help, the requirement to stay put until the results are in puts people in a precarious situation.
“People are working long hours and they’re exhausted. No one is at their peak form counting ballots 36 hours in, and neither is the equipment,” he says. “A lot of it is logistics — how do we make this process work well?”
Voting machine security
Fox News’ recent allegations against Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic have been another point of discussion, and it’s raised concerns about the possibilities of ballot tampering and the veracity of those vendors.
Idaho uses two different election software vendors. Most counties use Election Systems and Software voting machines, a Nebraska-based company owned by McCarthy group. The other one is Hart InterCivic, which partnered with Microsoft in 2021 and is based in Austin, Texas.
All election equipment in Idaho is certified nationally by the Election Assistance Commission, McGrane says, and by the Idaho Secretary of State’s office.
“Before a county can use it, we’ll test it in our office to make sure that it’s accurate and that it works the way it’s (supposed to),” he says. “The counties test their equipment before and after every election. Our office also does audits randomly after the primary and general elections to make sure (everything is in order).”
To protect against cybersecurity threats, none of the equipment is connected to the internet.
One reason Idaho uses these vendors over others, according to McGrane, is because they’re one of the few brands that are certified.
“With more scrutiny on the elections, that’s put more pressure on the vendors, so nationally, there aren’t many vendors out there that have been certified. The certification process is expensive,” he says. “We’re fortunate to have two vendors here.”
Still, the Idaho Legislature recently provided a one-time $10 million investment to the Secretary of State’s office to update voting technology and software.
“As we toured around, we got to see some of the technology being used to connect the counties. We’re making big improvements behind the scenes to make sure that connectivity works smoothly for the elections offices and to make sure we can cross verify,” McGrane says.
An election junkie’s journey to the Statehouse
Phil McGrane, Idaho Secretary of State | Courtesy Sec. of State’s website
McGrane, a resident of Ada County who was born and raised in Pocatello, is a self-described elections junkie whose interest in the election process stems back to his high school years when he attended his first rally.
He was the Ada County Clerk prior to being elected Secretary of State, but he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of the elections process in Idaho dating back to 2005. He got his start counting punch cards and recruiting poll workers, according to his website.
“My position was brand new … and was created as a reaction to the Help America Vote Act designed to fix all the problems that came up in Florida (during the 2000 election),” McGrane recalls. “I got to roll out equipment, help improve processes, which led to me becoming the chief deputy clerk in Ada County, and a law clerk to the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission.”
As chair of the Elections Committee for the Idaho Association of County Recorders and Clerks, he organized the first elections conference to provide training for clerks across the state.
His father, Mike McGrane, from Idaho Falls, is one of the founders of the LifeFlight program in Idaho Falls and Pocatello. He grew up where the U Pick RedBarn pumpkin patch now sits. Phil’s grandparents, Joe and Leone McGrane, were the original owners of the property. Phil has fond memories of going to Tautphaus Park as a kid.
Phil is proud of Idaho’s culture that’s based around “building trust in government.” He acknowledges the dedication of county clerks and volunteers across the state who work hard to make the election process work.
“In a republic, we depend on people showing up to vote. We need more volunteers who will step up and serve at our polls,” he says. “It’s through that community effort that we’re able to have such a good system here in the state of Idaho.”
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