Every vote matters on Election Day.
And Henrianne Westberg, along with her crew at the Latah County Clerk-Auditor’s Office, is doing all she can to ensure those who have a right to vote are able do so. That has included sending out nearly 12,000 absentee ballots and doing advance work and training to make sure all votes are accurately counted this Tuesday.
Westberg, who is in her final term as the county’s lead election official, notes that now, more than ever, people can have every confidence in the election process.
Craig Clohessy: Concerns have been raised about election security, in particular cybersecurity. How is that being handled in Latah County to ensure the election count is fair and accurate?
Henrianne Westberg: I think Idaho has done a really good job, a top-down kind of a job, where it starts at the secretary state’s office. Over the last probably two years since cybersecurity became more of an issue, they have been conducting trainings in Boise that all of the clerks go to with their election directors.
We had an opportunity not only to learn how to have good cybersecurity in your county but also they brought in wonderful people from all over the country to talk about what’s being done to keep the votes secure.
The other thing the secretary of state does is that they certify any of the equipment the clerks in Idaho — there’s 44 clerks in Idaho — that each of us use. So the big company in the United States is Election Systems and Software, or ES&S. The secretary of state certifies that equipment is safe.
In that respect, Latah County purchased what’s called a DS200. It is a tabulator, kind of a fancy calculator actually. It scans the ballot and tabulates how you voted. It is very dependable and not connected to the internet.
We test all of our equipment with ballots that ES&S sends us — what they call a test deck. The secretary of state also sends us a test deck based on our election and we put together a test deck. So each piece of equipment is tested to make sure that however a voter voted, it counts it correctly.
I have a lot of trust in the equipment that we have. And I feel like my IT director here, Laurel Caldwell, is well-versed in all kinds of cybersecurity that’s way over my head. I know that people call her from all over the state to get advice. I have a lot of confidence in her and her staff’s abilities.
CC: There has been a big uptick in absentee voting this year. How much has absentee voting increased and how is your office handling that to this point?
HW: It has tremendously increased because we wanted it to. We wanted to keep people away from the polls because of COVID-19 and not have large crowds gathering. ... We sent out 11,899 ballots ... and we have 90 percent of those back.
CC: The polling places will be open Tuesday. With the pandemic, have you had any trouble getting your usual poll workers to turn out?
HW: I have not got a lot of my veteran workers. There are people who have worked the polls for over 20 years.
I was able to get at least one experienced poll worker for each precinct and then we paired that person with two brand-new poll workers. I think that’s going to work out fine. We’re doing poll worker training.
The outpouring from the community was tremendous as far as people saying, “I’m available and happy to help.”
CC: The Idaho Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion this week related to polling places. In the past, those coming in to vote weren’t allowed to wear any kind of political attire such as T-shirts or campaign buttons. The AG’s opinion says it is now OK to do so. Do you think that’s going to cause any issues at the polls this year?
HW: I don’t think so. In fact, on my poll worker training, I’ve explained the new, what would you say, opinion, and I still will ask people to cover up the candidate’s name if they are wearing a mask or button or something like that to the polls.
I’m not going to battle with them about it, but I will ask them nicely to remove their hat. ... I know that particular issue, the Make America Great Again hat, has gone to a higher court and they did rule, because it doesn’t have the candidate’s name on it, that it’s not considered electioneering. But I do feel it’s appropriate as the person running the election to ask the person to remove their hat because this is the polling place and if they do, that’s fine, and if they don’t, then I will just let them vote and try to get them in and out of there as soon as possible.
Most people are pretty good about it. I haven’t had a problem so far and I have had to ask a few people to turn their mask around or remind them that they shouldn’t have any candidate material at the polling place.
We have a sign in the parking lot: No electioneering, no candidate information beyond this point. I feel like the law is up for interpretation, but I feel like we can always ask and I think asking is the thing to do.
We can’t force anyone, especially at the polls, to do anything. It’s your right to vote. You can come in to vote and we will try to accommodate you as best we can.
CC: You’ve been in government service much of your adult life with the last few years in your current role. What drew you to public service?
HW: When I moved to Idaho, I was a student at the University of Idaho and I found a (summer) job out in Potlatch (on the farm of) Gary Morris, who was county commissioner. At the end of the summer, he knew I was looking for a job and he said there was an opening at auto licensing. I went in and I got the job. ... I ended up eventually moving to the auditor’s office doing accounts payable and payroll for Latah County. After that I transferred to District Court and I worked as a District Court clerk for six years.
I took a little time off with my children and when I was looking for a job after that, I found something down at the city of Moscow in the finance department that dealt with paying the bills, working with the budget, fixed assets and that sort of thing.
When Susan Petersen, who had served for many, many years (as the clerk-auditor), decided to retire, I had always missed Latah County and I asked her if she would support me in running for auditor. She was happy to do that. I was very fortunate to be elected. I’m in my second term. I have one more year of this term and then I’ll retire.
I really enjoy people. I think that’s why I have enjoyed public service. Today I was working on early voting, and I was chatting with everyone in line. It was the happiest part of my day. ... Helping people vote, I thought, “You know, this is why you do what you do, you just like people.”
CC: Anything else you’d like to add?
HW: The clerk wears so many hats. We’re social service, we clerk the board of county commissioners, we run the District Court, we run the budget and the payroll and the elections and all these many things. No one person can do that.
If you’re doing a good job, it’s because you have a good staff, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people that work for me. They are so dedicated. (This election), they’ve been coming early, they’ve been staying late, they’ve been working weekends and they are just doing such a great job.
Clohessy is managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2251.