Recounting a mystery Clerk orders ballot recount; says nobody complained

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  • LOREN BENOIT/Press Megan Bircher recounts early and absentee ballots Wednesday morning at the Kootenai County Elections Office. A specific resident or complaint did not prompt the recount.

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    Grace Studer with the Kootenai County Elections Office places recounted early and absentee ballots in a box Wednesday morning. The recount was ordered to ensure every early and absentee vote was counted. A specific resident or complaint did not prompt the recount. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    Brannon

  • LOREN BENOIT/Press Megan Bircher recounts early and absentee ballots Wednesday morning at the Kootenai County Elections Office. A specific resident or complaint did not prompt the recount.

  • 1

    Grace Studer with the Kootenai County Elections Office places recounted early and absentee ballots in a box Wednesday morning. The recount was ordered to ensure every early and absentee vote was counted. A specific resident or complaint did not prompt the recount. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    Brannon

COEUR d'ALENE — New year, new ballot count.

And maybe a new controversy.

Kootenai County Clerk Jim Brannon on Wednesday ordered a recount of the reported 17,311 absentee and early voting ballots of November's general election.

As of deadline Wednesday night, the final results of the recount weren’t tallied and Brannon said the work will continue today. However, he said he doesn't expect the recount to alter any race outcomes because there were no tight races.

"We're going to work on this so we make sure we get it right," Brannon said Wednesday night after he and his elections staff worked on the recount all day. "I want to get where I'm confident that all the ballots were counted. I'm trying to be transparent. This is to make sure every ballot is counted and we're not done.

"And, if the votes are all right, great."

But when Brannon was repeatedly asked what prompted him to have the recount performed two months after the election, he replied with the same or similar response.

"Every vote should be counted," he said. "I can't say it any other way. We are verifying all votes were counted. It needs to be pure."

Brannon said nobody complained about the original count, in person or through a written request or challenge.

"My job as clerk is to make sure every vote is counted," he said. "This decision comes directly from the Clerk's Office. It was my choice to do this. All the votes have to be counted and, if they haven't been, shame on us. I want the numbers to be right."

During Wednesday's electronic counting process, Brannon said he didn't expect any race outcomes to change as a result of the recount because none of the races were tight.

Some have criticized the Elections Office for not having final voting results for several hours after the polls close at 8 p.m. and well into the morning hours, but Brannon held firm on his position on that front on Wednesday.

"I won't give up accuracy for speed," he said.

The recount was the latest decision to shake the county's Elections Department. It comes just two weeks after Carrie Phillips, elections manager, said she was asked to leave the agency effective immediately.

Brannon declined to comment Wednesday whether the recount and the decision toward Phillips were related, citing personnel reasons.

Phillips said Wednesday that she had heard about the recount but didn't know any of the circumstances behind the action. She also said displeasure with the elections counting process was not a reason she was given the choice of resigning or being fired.

"I wasn't told that the election didn't go well or that they were unhappy with the way things turned out," she said. "Of course, there's always things that can be improved upon with elections. I will be curious what comes of (the recount)."

Brannon said he was dealing with personnel matters much of last month, but more recently "had an opportunity to look at things" in regard to the election count.

Another elected official, Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh, was present with Brannon and elections staff on Wednesday to recover the early and absentee ballots from a room at the Elections Office that has been locked since election night.

Todd Case, a contractor who represents Election Systems and Software and was present on election night, returned for the recount to assist with setting up the counting machines and ensuring there were no mechanical issues with the tabulators.

The cost to the county to have Case present hadn't been determined on Wednesday.

Counting accuracy tests were performed both before and after the actual ballots were counted. Brannon said he consulted with the Idaho Secretary of State's Office before the recount and told that office that he would report any changes to it to make the count official.

Brannon won his re-election bid against Dan Gookin, who ran unaffiliated, during the November election.

This is the second recount during Brannon's five years in office.

In November 2017, votes for a Spirit Lake Fire race were recounted when Mark Miller defeated Jonathan Hall by one vote. The original count was verified during the recount and the outcome didn't change.

Brannon said it was his responsibility to ensure the votes were verified.

"When someone votes, they need to be certain that their vote is counted," Brannon said. "That's a fundamental basis of our Constitutional republic."

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