Idaho’s Legislature wants to revamp an election system that needs no fixing.
That’s not us saying it.
That’s the Idaho secretary of state, Lawerence Denney, saying it.
In an interview with the Spokesman-Review’s Orion Donovan-Smith, Denney acknowledged a simple fact: The level of voter fraud in Idaho’s last election is miniscule.
“I think we did very well,” Denney said. “There were a lot of things that could have gone wrong that didn’t. We’re really very happy with the way things went, and that would be kudos to our counties and our county clerks who run those elections.”
In last year’s election, Idahoans cast 878,527 votes — some in person, some on an absentee ballot.
How many cases of apparent fraud occurred?
Denney estimated the number at 29. One of his aides says it may have expanded to about 41.
Either way, as Donovan-Smith put it, that’s 0.003 percent.
Investigations and prosecutions will winnow that list further.
Certainly a convicted felon who is still on parole who illegally seeks to vote is a clear-cut case.
But what about the assisted living center resident whose son forgets she voted absentee and drives her to vote in person on Election Day?
Or how about the parent who complies with her college student’s wishes by filling out a local ballot?
Neither necessarily rises to the level of criminal intent.
So when you get down to it, Denney told Donovan-Smith, you may have three or four cases that warrant prosecution.
Bearing him out is a Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the University of Sydney study of the 2016 election. Idaho ranked second only to Vermont in what the study called electoral integrity.
l Washington came in seventh.
l Oregon — 12th.
l Montana — 16th.
l Wyoming — 18th.
l Utah — 24th.
l Nevada — 34th.
None of which impresses Idaho Republican lawmakers.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, wants to block “ballot harvesting” by subjecting anyone who gathers more than six ballots at a time to a felony.
Rep. Brandon Mitchell, R-Moscow, would require voters to submit ID with a current address — rather than continuing the practice of allowing someone without identification to sign an affidavit at the voting station.
Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, wants to nullify any Idahoan’s choice for president if he cast an absentee ballot rather than votes in person.
Denney’s response is polite but hardly enthusiastic.
Denney characterized that as “something that’s more a perception than a reality in Idaho. ... But at the same time, it’s a perception that’s very real in some people’s minds, so having something in the books is not a problem with us.”
“We would like to have universal voter ID, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s a big problem in Idaho,” Denney said.
While it did not come up, Denney’s orchestration of a massive uptick in voter participation through expanded absentee balloting in the midst of a pandemic only produced more votes for former President Donald Trump and the entire Idaho GOP ticket.
The problem is not Idaho’s laws; it’s social media that creates a false sense of alarm among voters, he said.
Translation: This push toward “voter integrity” in Idaho isn’t driven by anything going on within the Gem State. It’s part of a national Republican response to the Big Lie that Trump was cheated out of reelection — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Brennan Center for Justice reports 250 bills in 43 states purporting to block illegal voting.
If Denney sounds ambivalent now, it was not always the case.
A former Republican speaker of the Idaho House, Denney was not above stoking voters’ fears when he first sought his current office in 2014:
“One of my priorities is to work on measures to enhance the security of the election process, such as new technology that scans either signatures or fingerprints,” then-candidate Denney wrote. “There is a cost for increased security, and I hope to work with the Legislature to start the appropriate process for implementation as soon as possible. During my campaign, I have emphasized the importance of ensuring the security of the ballot, and the integrity of the process.”
Seven years later, he knows better. To borrow a line, Denney has learned a thing or two because he’s seen a thing or two.— M.T.