Much ado about… nothing?

img_2920.jpegBy Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

A group of Ada County election officials and volunteers were ready to scrutinize the nearly 18,000 ballots cast this November, looking for 7 votes that would kick Sen. Martin out of office and replace him with Jim Bratnober.

Six votes stood between a complete flip of District 15 from Republicans to Democrats with Reps. Luker and McDonald already losing their races. With such a small margin, it was clear that a recount would be requested.

The recount process for this race is dictated by Idaho law. A sample of 5% of the votes cast is to be counted by hand, compared to the results from election night, and then counted by machine. If the difference is 1% or more, then a hand recount will be required. If not, machines will recount the votes.

To put this in perspective, 1% of a sample this small could mean that there is a large number of votes changed throughout the district. 5% of the total votes in District 15 would be 895. To trigger a hand recount, 9 votes would need to change. If only 8 votes change, a machine recount would still be used.

Extrapolating that to the entire District means that there could be 160 votes that were miscalculated by the machines, but will still be recounted by machines because that wasn’t enough of an error to require a recount by hand. That total is over 26 times larger than the margin between Martin and Bratnober.

CWI could be even larger. Over 175,000 ballots were cast, meaning that there could be a change of 1,740 votes throughout the county that could change and not be recounted by hand. That is over 12 times what CWI needs for the levy to pass.

Even without a hand recount, the election results could be changed.

The recount process started on December 3rd when Ada County officials and volunteers did a hand recount of roughly 5% of the total vote in the district. 926 ballots were counted from the second precinct in the district, all of which were cast on election day.

The ballots were split between 9 teams of 4 volunteers who would check and record each vote.

Around 9:50, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk (and Ada County Clerk-elect) Phil McGrane explained that the hand recount matched the results from election night. 

Well, they did after a minor math issue that terrified the vote counters.

McGrane explained that when calculating the votes, some of the columns were misleading, causing everyone to count ten more votes than there really were. This lead to a preliminary count that added an extra 180 votes.

After finding that mistake, everything went smoothly. Officials started using the machines to count the sample. If the machine recount were off by 1% or more, then a hand recount would have been triggered.

But just like the hand recount, the machine recount had the same totals that were found on election night.

These recounts should “make people feel more confident,” McGrane said. The most important thing was to get the count right.

When asked about his preferences for recounts, McGrane expressed reservations about recounting all of the ballots by hand, explaining that human error usually makes problems more likely. Machines don’t have the same errors that humans do and therefore are better equipped to handle recounts.

Volunteers started working on the sample for the CWI levy after they finished the Senate recount. McGrane stated that they are counting 9,615 ballots for that sample from 10 to 12 precincts.

IMG_2921Like District 15’s recount, the numbers will be tallied at the end and compared to the election night results. When that is done, they will do a machine recount. If the results match, there will be a machine recount for all of Ada County’s ballots. A hand recount will be done if those results vary by more than 1%.

While the sample ballots were counted by the machines quickly, it is going to take a few days for the machines to do all of District 15’s ballots. McGrane expects to know more either by Wednesday or Thursday.

The CWI results will take much longer. Over 190,000 ballots were cast in Ada County on election night, which means we may not know the results for a few weeks.

As contentious as some of the elections in Idaho were, the recount for one of the closest races this year was anything but that. A quiet room of volunteers continues to work on counting ballots, but unlike what we have seen in elections across the country, Ada County’s recounts look to be going very well.

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Alarms in the House Speaker race

Crane (1 of 1)By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

A large repository of marijuana and THC infused products is protected by Crane Alarms Services. The Republican Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Brent Crane is a vice president at Crane Alarms Services. Ron Crane, Idaho’s Treasurer, is the owner.

The Crane family business provides security to Hotbox Farms a marijuana dispensary in Huntington Oregon. The shop carries a wide variety of edibles, concentrates, vapes and cannabis products. The website says it is “proud to be your one-stop shop” for cannabis.

Rep. Crane has repeatedly come out against recreational marijuana in Idaho, pointing to the problems faced by law enforcement in other states, like Oregon, are having in communities with legal marijuana.

“I am unwavering in my opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” Crane told Idaho Reports. Idaho Reports could not find any Crane vote in favor of CBD oil, medicinal marijuana or any other pro-marijuana legislation in his time at the Idaho Statehouse.

Rep. Crane is against selling marijuana in Idaho but “Yes,” Crane said in his email statement, “I can confirm that Crane Alarm does provide security services at Hotbox Farms in Huntington, Ore.” Rep. Crane is also aware of the money his company is receiving from Hotbox Farms. “I am aware of it because I oversee the invoicing for our customers.”

Crane (2 of 1)The Crane Alarm Services website says Rep. Crane and his brother, Jaron Crane, oversee the day-to-day operations of the business but Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane is still very involved.

Crane Alarm services are split between a fire and a security division. Rep. Crane is the Fire Division Manager. Rep. Crane says the decision to provide security services to Hotbox Farms was something he had no control over. The decision was made by his brother, adding that “It was solely (Jaron’s) decision to provide security services to Hotbox Farms.”

Residents in Ontario, Ore. voted to legalize the sale of marijuana just feet over the Idaho border earlier this month.  Rep. Crane said, “I can assure you that the Fire Alarm Division has not and will not be providing fire alarm service to marijuana dispensaries in Ontario,” what the security division may do is unknown.

Knowledge of the Crane Family business’ involvement with marijuana dispensaries in Oregon has been rumored for a while. It wasn’t until recently pictures of the Crane Alarm Services stickers in Hotbox Farm’s windows began to circulate.

IMG_4594“I successfully went through a Republican leadership campaign for assistant majority leader. Not a single comment was raised regarding this issue,” Crane said, of his 2016 leadership election, the year after Oregon legalized marijuana. “But when I announced my campaign for speaker, a mysterious someone surfaces to call into question my character in an attempt to paint me as a hypocrite.”

Idaho Reports reached out to Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, he said he knew of the pictures but had no involvement with distributing the photos nor did he want anything to do with them what so ever.

“These are the same tactics that the Clintons and the Democrats have used for years in an attempt to silence or destroy their political opponents,” Crane said.

 

Whether it is hypocrisy or a Clintonesque smear campaign, marijuana has taken a surprisingly prominent position in the Republican leadership elections. How it all plays out will be deiced at the legislative organizational session on December 6th. Tune into Idaho Reports for the verdict.

 

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Madison County precinct that posted signs sees lowest turnout in county

By Melissa Davlin, Devon Downey, Idaho Reports

In a year that broke midterm election voter turnout records, eastern Idaho’s Madison County saw the lowest turnout in the state, with just 44.5 percent of registered voters showing up. One area of Rexburg in particular had remarkably low turnout: University Precinct, which encompasses the BYU-Idaho campus, had just 13.4 percent turnout — one of the lowest turnouts in the state.

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Copy of signs posted in Madison County precincts near BYU-Idaho. 

Madison County made the news on election day with signs at precincts near Brigham Young University-Idaho discouraging students from registering to vote in Idaho. The sign prompted a letter from the ACLU-Idaho and cries of voter suppression on social media.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney told Idaho Reports he was concerned about the signs and asked that they be taken down. Though there can be consequences to out-of-state students registering to vote in Idaho, such as losing in-state tuition for graduate or medical school in their home states, that education should take place well before election day, Denney said.

There is no way to accurately measure who might have seen the signs and decided not to vote, nor what turnout would have been had the signs not been up for half the day.

But is the low turnout among university students that abnormal? Yes and no. In the last midterm general election, in 2014, University precinct had 17.6 percent turnout, while Madison County as a whole had a 42.3 percent turnout. In other words, the precinct had a slightly better showing, while the county had a lower percentage.

Precinct boundaries were redrawn and renamed after 2010, but in that year’s election, precincts near the BYU-Idaho campus also had low turnout, with one precinct seeing just 7 percent of its registered voters show up on election day.

College students are tricky voting demographic to reach, but other university towns across the state had higher turnouts. This year, in Moscow, home of the University of Idaho, no single precinct dipped below 34 percent. Idaho State University’s Pocatello didn’t have a precinct below 36 percent, and in Ada County’s Bronco County, precinct 1710, which includes Boise State University, still had 49 percent turnout.

Madison County Clerk Kim Muir told Idaho Reports on Monday that she wasn’t aware of Madison’s relatively low turnout compared to the rest of the state.

“I really don’t know what the factors were for that,” Muir said. “We don’t have a lot of college students show up except for presidential elections.”

She did note that the signs directed at students have been up in multiple elections, and that the county has split precincts since the 2016 presidential election.

Blaine County had the highest turnout at 76.3 percent. Statewide, the turnout was 66.7 percent.

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An uprising lying in wait

By Seth Ogilvie

There could be an active insurrection against the new way a group of legislators wants to pay schools.

For the last two years, a legislative interim committee has been meeting and trying to figure out the best way to give Idaho schools the money they need to teach kids. Currently, schools get their money based on average daily attendance or the number of kids in the classrooms, and several other line items, like the career ladder. The committee is looking to fundamentally change the way the state spends its money on education, and stakeholders are nervously awaiting the final proposal.

Already, there are signs of dissent.

A slide presented in the November 12th  Boise Board of Trustees meeting reads “Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents are opposed to a formula which creates winners and losers and promotes divisiveness.”

“It is unfortunate that they essentially want to do away with the career ladder,” Dr. Troy Rohn, a Boise School District Trustee, added in an email.

“The Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Education Association, and the Southern Idaho Conference Superintendents all support keeping the Career Ladder in place,” Boise Schools superintendent Dr. Don Coberly told Idaho Reports Friday.

A letter signed by Executive Director of the Idaho School Boards Association Karen Echeverria , Executive Director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators Rob Winslow, and President of the Idaho Education Association Kari Overall states “We currently have the ability to determine the gap between what the legislature is funding for salaries and benefits and what school districts and charter schools are actually paying. If these dollars are placed into the new formula, we will never be able to capture that data again.”

Changing the way money is allocated in schools has the potential to create huge political problems, because it will affect every legislative and school district differently.

The big problem is math. “They built this model and it has a lot of levers on it,” Winslow told Idaho Reports. If the same amount of money is in the system and that money is dispersed differently, some will benefit and some will suffer. Without adding more money into the system, there is no way of making sure there are no winners and losers without simply retaining the old system or reverse engineering a new system to hit the same goals.

If, after two years of work, the committee were to simply reverse engineer a system to recreate the old numbers, citizens would also be within their rights to wonder why they spent two years working to get a result we already had.

The new system has many variables, and the committee has been constantly tweaking them. “If you raise the base, it kind of lifts everybody,” and you can change the formula without hurting districts, Winslow said, but that would mean more money.

The Boise School District Board of Trustees recently evaluated a recent incarnation from the committee, another version will be released November 26th. These won’t be the final numbers but they are symbolic of the problem; It’s hard not to create winners and losers.

One of the biggest winners, according to the Board of trustees analysis, is Caldwell School District, which would gain $3.4 million. Two of the biggest losers are Boise, which would lose $5 million the equivalent of 100 teachers and Fremont County who will lose, $1.6 million or 32 teachers.

“What the legislators are trying to do now is make a model that is as acceptable as possible to other legislators,” Winslow said. “They came up with a model that will irritate all these legislators because they’ll go back home and realize ‘Wow, you’re messing up my district,’” Winslow said. “That’s a hard sell.” Winslow added it’s a poor idea to give a bunch of legislators a reason to hate it.

A large portion of the money in the recent model would end up in the Treasure Valley: Vallivue would increase $3.1 million, Nampa by $4.3 million, Kuna by $1.3 million, and Mountain Home and Middleton would see just under a million dollar increase.

New funding formula _Page_3

“This will be devastating to some small districts,” Rohn wrote. “Northern Idaho schools will be hit hard along with our district.”

Rohn points to the “wealth factor” as a huge problem that is executed regardless of a districts ability to pass a supplemental levy. “It’s completely unfair and is targeting districts that right now have high property values,” Rohn said.
The formula will affect about half of the state of Idaho’s general fund spending, and stakeholders are understandably anxious. This formula could require more money to keep every district from cuts. Winslow said “If you don’t put enough money in it, it just doesn’t work well.”

But there are competing demands for that money. Idaho voters passed Medicaid expansion this year, and the 2018 legislature passed a large tax cut. The money hasn’t been rolling into Idaho coffers like people expected, Idaho is down $47.3 million from expectations this fiscal year.

This isn’t the type of policy, however, that the Idaho Legislature will easily admit defeat on. Speaker of the House Scott Bedke placed himself on the committee a move that sends a signal he is behind this idea. Students, teachers and all of Idaho will be drastically affected by how the legislature disperses the money, and everyone wants something.
“We were promised something less complicated and transparent based on the committee work that was previously done,” Rohn said. “This version is nothing like that.”

“There shouldn’t be winners and losers,” Winslow said. “You can adjust it and play with it and make yourself a winner and somebody else a loser but that’s not right.”

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IDHW board approves pending birth certificate, vaccination rule changes

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

 

On Thursday, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Board of Directors voted to officially adopt proposed rule changes establishing a process to change the sex on birth certificates issued in Idaho.

The rule comes after a March U.S. District Court ruling, which ordered Idaho to allow transgender people born in the state to change the gender markers on their birth certificates.

Last week’s vote moves that rule change forward to the Idaho Legislature for final approval during the 2019 session.

Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator for the Division of Public Health at IDHW, said since the initial rule proposal, the state of Idaho has received 66 applications to change birth certificates. Of those, 40 have already been processed, while the rest are still pending. Most of the applications have been for adults, though 11 have been on behalf of minors.

Shaw-Tulloch noted that because the rule was the result of a court order, it did not go through the typical administrative negotiated rule-making process.

Another rule change adds a booster of meningococcal vaccination to the immunization requirements for students entering the 12th grade. The board also adopted rules clarifying that parents may submit a signed statement exempting their children from immunization requirements, as opposed to a form provided by the school or licensed daycare facility.

The department received 9 comments opposed to the meningococcal vaccination requirement, and 44 comments supporting the change.

Like the birth certificate rule, those rule changes, which have been in effect since May, will be presented to the Idaho Legislature for final approval during the 2019 session.

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Harassment doesn’t end overnight

Wide view of the boise capital building

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Idaho Legislature will have a new policy on harassment this year. The plan comes in the wake of numerous highly publicized nationwide events and a few lesser-known incidents at the Idaho Statehouse. Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb who co-chaired the Respectful Workplace Task Force Committee said, “There have been stories. There’s folklore about things that have happened in this body.”

Countless legislatures and businesses throughout the country are undertaking the same changes. “This was something that needed to be done for a long time, and there’s been a cry across legislatures and across the United States,” Sen. Buckner-Webb said.

The Idaho Legislature did not have an articulated procedure before this and complaints did not have a standardized method. “There wasn’t a process whereby someone could report and feel confident that it would be acted upon,” Sen. Buckner-Webb said. There was no way of quantifying what was going on.

The new policy lays out definitions of harassment and puts procedures in place to process complaints. “They did well on how the committee is going to investigate and how they’re going to punish people,” said Monique Lillard, Professor of Law at the University of Idaho and past president of the Employment Discrimination section of the Association of American Law Schools. “I think they covered all of the important components.”

“Our goal is to interrupt any harassment that might be going on, to eliminate harassment and to protect all the folks that work in this building,” Sen. Buckner-Webb said. People should thrive, she added, and not be fearful of harassment when they come to work.

The policy has noble goals, but it may have a few mechanical flaws. The policy states people, “should submit a complaint directly to one of the appropriate contact persons.” That is just one singular person, not the committee. The policy lists nine positions consisting primarily of leadership for the legislature and the staff who people can approach with a complaint.

That one person contacted has ultimate discretion. They can consult with the Office of the Attorney General or any member of the Respectful Workplace Committee, they can bring the complaint to the committee, or they can resolve the charge themselves. “That could allow for massaging things so that they’d go away,” Lillard said. “Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes that’s a cover-up.”

“There is much power in that one individual to say ‘Oh, this isn’t worth passing on,’” Lillard said. “That could be a place that important matters could get quashed, but then that (complainant) could go to somebody else.”

Another possible flaw resides in the record keeping. Every complaint is recorded “under the complainant’s name,” according to the policy. Those records will be “retained for three years following termination of employment or service.”

“It ought to be under the accused’s name,” Lillard said. “Not under the complainant’s name, we can all think of nationally known politicians who might have a long list of accusations.” Under this system, a politician accused of harassment would not have a file, but the person who accused that politician would have a file. If an intern were to accuse a legislator, then three years passed or less than two legislative terms, that complaint could be erased from the record.

Then there is the problem of confidentiality. The records can only become public if a court compels it or if the “person, or persons, against whom the complaint is filed consents in writing to disclosure,” the policy states. The person who made the complaint would seemingly not have access to the complaint or be able to ensure it’s confidentiality if the person they accused wanted it public. “The confidentiality resides in the accused,” Lillard said.

There also may be unintended consequences. “It’s sometimes called the “Mike Pence rule” because he doesn’t go to lunch or dinner alone with women,” Lillard said. Shortly after the workforce training session in the 2018 legislature men in the statehouse began openly contemplating not meeting with women alone. “Some members of the body said, I’m not going to do anything that can put me in the least bit of harm’s way,” Sen. Buckner-Webb said. Some politicians didn’t want to have lunch with a lobbyist or have a woman in their office.

Segregating oneself off from a group of people for fear of what they may accuse you of is a big problem for a woman or any marginalized person because that denies them access, friendship and a seat at the table when deals are made. “There’s a right to talk to your elected representative and to have them say; ‘Well I won’t talk to you unless you bring somebody else with you or unless I bring somebody else in this room,’’Lillard said. “I find that really troubling.”

The Pence rule could also be illegal discrimination based on gender. “Women shouldn’t have to run some gauntlet of leaders and people grabbing at them when men don’t have to run that gauntlet. It keeps women from moving forward in the workplace if they have to endure insults or slurs or come-ons or whatever,” Lillard said, “It’s completely ironic if the anti-harassment law results in flat out, blatant discrimination.”

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have no protections from discrimination, nor would they be protected by this policy, because they are not a protected class in Idaho. “But I would like to think (the policy) is inclusive although that is inferred if it’s not called out, and as you know that community is not included in our Human Rights Act,” Buckner-Webb said, “I’d love to see that changed right away.”

The policy was not a response to the climate within the Idaho Statehouse. This policy was a response to a worldwide reckoning that the halls of power have not been adequately policed and some of the most powerful have been harassing their co-workers. It is a significant change to the Idaho legislature, that had no formal plan in place before. It might not be perfect but “they’re definitely on the right track,” Lillard said.

If you’d like to learn more about the policy Sen. Buckner-Webb is on the November 16th Idaho Reports.

 

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On percentages and raw votes

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

If you’ve read any election postmortems, you saw this: Despite national press attention, Paulette Jordan got roughly the same percentage of votes as Democratic governor candidate AJ Balukoff did four years ago.

And that’s true. However, turnout was so high, Jordan ended up getting nearly the same number of votes — 231,065 — as Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter did that year, at 235,405. Balukoff, meanwhile, had 169,556 votes.

What’s more, lieutenant governor candidate Kristin Collum got more votes than Otter did, at 240,292. Superintendent candidate Cindy Wilson got 288,666 votes, a new record for an Idaho Democratic statewide candidate. Gov. Cecil Andrus won his 1990 election with 217,801 votes — though Idaho’s population has almost doubled since then.

So yes, percentages matter. That’s how candidates win. But Idaho politics isn’t just about Tuesday’s vote, and it’s not just about these three candidates. It’s about the long game. It’s about the legislative and county seats Democrats picked up around the state on Tuesday.

If the Idaho Democratic Party can hang onto that momentum, they won’t flip the entire state blue, but they may have more sway in local and legislative races.

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