State: City picks recall election date

County clerk will have 15 business days to verify voter signatures

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COEUR d'ALENE - The protocol for gathering recall petitions, getting them verified and having a recall election - should it get that far - might not be as you've been told.

The Press contacted the Idaho Secretary of State's Office on Monday about the process that must be followed as citizens try to collect enough signatures for a recall election on four Coeur d'Alene incumbents. Sure enough, the petition drive supporters have until 5 p.m. June 19 to turn them over to the City Clerk's Office.

After that, though, some clarification was needed.

Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst said the 75 days to gather signatures does not include the 15 business days that the Kootenai County Clerk's Office will have to certify whether they are valid registered voter signatures.

Idaho statute says "perfected" petitions - those that are signed and notarized - have to be turned in to the city clerk's office within 75 days of the starting date.

The City Clerk's Office wrote a letter to RecallCdA organizer Frank Orzell stating that the 75-day total includes 15 days to verify the signatures, but Hurst said Monday that isn't the case. He said each petition page must be notarized before it is turned in to the city clerk. The notarization requirement is intended to act as verification that the signature gatherer did see the person sign the petition. Perfected doesn't mean certified. The certification clock starts after the 75-day gathering period ends, according to Hurst.

When the petitions are "perfected," they're then handed to City Clerk Susan Weathers, Hurst said. The city clerk's office is expected to make copies of the petitions at that point before handing them back over to County Clerk Cliff Hayes, who has up to 15 business days to certify the signatures.

The recall effort against City Council members Mike Kennedy, Woody McEvers, Deanna Goodlander and Mayor Sandi Bloem requires that only registered city voters can effectively sign the petitions. Each of the four petitions needs 4,311 valid signatures to prompt a recall election.

Hayes said Monday he will validate the signatures with elections department staff by checking the names and addresses of each signer in the county's database.

Kootenai County Elections Department Supervisor Carrie Phillips said they will also compare signatures to voter registration cards to verify that they are similar. If they are not, Phillips will be the final say on whether the signature will count. She said she will meet with Hayes to establish steps they will take to determine if questionable signatures are from the signer.

Hayes said copies of the petitions would likely be available for interested parties as a public records request.

Hurst also explained that it is the city clerk, not the county clerk, who schedules the recall election - a possible point of contention on the political horizon.

Here's how the process will work:

As the county clerk verifies the signatures, he will mark on each petition page how many valid signatures each contains. It is not the county's duty to count the total. That is the city clerk's responsibility after the county turns the verified sheets back over to the city.

If the total surpasses the 4,311 signature threshold, the city clerk will ask the candidate if he or she will resign. The candidates have five days to respond. If they do not resign, Weathers would call for an election.

According to the Secretary of State's office, she would have four dates from which she could choose to have the election: The last Tuesday in August, the Tuesday following the first Monday in November, the second Tuesday in March 2013, or the third Tuesday in May 2013. All the dates have to be at least 45 days out from the time the city clerk's office calls for the election.

So if the petition drive is successful, and signatures are validated relatively quickly, Weathers could call for the recall election to be in August. She said she doesn't know what date she would select as she was going through the process "one step at a time."

"I'm not looking that far ahead," she said.

Hurst said statute doesn't require recalls to be scheduled for the next election date, but the office prefers to see it scheduled that way.

The recall process is seldom exercised, making it tricky to understand when it is, officials said.

"I guess we're going to learn as we go," Hayes said.

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