By Kathy Ackerman, Idaho County Clerk
I realize we are still four weeks out from the General Election, but I have already learned some valuable lessons as a result of an ‘all absentee’ Primary and the robust election season as we move toward Nov. 3. These five lessons are based on the numerous phone calls we’ve received in the first week of voting in Idaho County.
1. People have very strong feelings about absentee voting-they either love it or hate it. I feel somewhat like my grandma did back in the day when she sat between my brother and me to keep us from fighting. I understand both sides of this, yet I refuse to get sucked into a battle between the two. We are working diligently to make sure those who want absentee ballots get them and those who want to vote at the polls can do so.
2. What is happening nationally creates serious skepticism about local processes. I just don’t know how else to say this: Idaho. Is. Different. All Idaho counties play by the same rules that are set out in Idaho statutes. While there are some differences in logistics between large urban counties, such as Ada and Canyon, and small rural counties like Idaho County, we are all following the laws enacted by our legislature. We are happy to explain how it works. In fact, we have explained how it works in previous guest columns, on our Idaho County Elections Facebook page and in news articles. Still, call us with your questions. We want to help alleviate your concerns about how this election will hit the history books.
3. People forget and it’s okay. We have been trying to keep ahead of the outrage people express when they call and want to know why they were sent an absentee ballot when they didn’t request one. What we are finding is that many, many people checked the box to receive a ballot for the November election back in April/May when they completed a request for absentee ballot for the primary election. This was all so new then and we simply didn’t know if the polls were going to be open in November or not. We had over 7,000 absentee requests for the primary and over 4,000 of those folks also checked the box for November. Yet here we are, pulling out those requests to provide proof to the voters that they did, in fact, request the ballot we sent. It’s difficult, to be honest. People generally don’t like to be proven wrong and that is not our intent. We simply understand that months have gone by, times have changed and people forget. For those who received an absentee ballot, but would rather vote at the polls instead, please return your unvoted ballot to our office by Oct. 30 or take it with you to your polling location on Election Day. That ballot will be ‘spoiled’ and a new ballot issued.
4. Messaging must be frequent and consistent. I am competing with daily Internet and news stories that are working at odds with my messaging. Although we put out frequent updates on our Idaho County Elections Facebook page, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with other, competing Facebook messaging that contradicts us. Putting together a guest column, such as this one, or sitting down with the local paper to work on an article often ends up being reactionary. As hard as we work to anticipate the questions and get ahead of the concerns, it seems there is always something, some idea on social media, working against us. So, I’ve come to believe the best message I can impart is, “CALL US! 208-983-2751”
5. Public service is as challenging as it is rewarding. I’m not sure if people think that elections just fall out of the sky, packaged and ready to roll, but I assure you, it doesn’t happen that way. We had barely recovered from a physically and mentally exhausting primary (picture counting around 18,000 ballots by hand), when the Secretary of State made the transfer to a new statewide elections system and the preparations for this election began. COVID 19 concerns have made this process more difficult. We have much to consider, such as the possible impact a pandemic would have on our poll workers, most of whom are in the ‘at risk’ age category. Also, what to do if we have a bunch of people call in sick on Election day? Thankfully, we have had many people contact us about being substitutes and/or future workers. This is a positive thing.
Please allow us an opportunity to answer your questions as Nov. 3 approaches. My staff is here to help.