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Ada County Clerk explains how a recent ballot mistake was discovered and handled after new public attention on the issue

Clerk Phil McGrane says he first reported the ballot mistake to state officials weeks ago, and that the candidates are well aware of the issue and process.

ADA COUNTY, Idaho — There is new community attention on a mistake made during the 2021 election cycle, but a top election official in Ada County said they are well aware of the claim and have been handling it for weeks.

Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said the issue comes down to how candidates in the Meridian City Council, seat 6, race were listed on the ballot. In Idaho, many political races are supposed to list candidates in varied orders on the ballot so one candidate isn’t atop the race listing on every single ballot. The mistake was highlighted on twitter by a candidate for Idaho Governor, Ammon Bundy.

“We spent about $15,000 correcting it to ensure that all of the election day ballots and the early voting ballots would be accurate and the rotation would be exactly the same. So candidate names are always going to be the same,” McGrane said.

The issue comes down to a computing error, McGrane said. The ballot software was supposed to recognize a three-person race but was only marked to recognize a two-person race. The mistake was discovered by a staffer during a normal election process audit.

“Overwhelmingly the ballots that went out in the election were exactly the right way and all of the ballots had all of the candidates’ names and everyone had equal opportunity. It's not like there was anything interfering with somebody's ability to vote for a candidate they wanted to choose in this particular race,” McGrane said.

McGrane said he himself reported the issue to both the Idaho Attorney General and the Secretary of State weeks ago, and they determined the issue did not have an impact on the race results. The race came down to a slim margin between two candidates. Luke Cavener was the apparent winner following the Nov. 2 election, Cavener had a 56-vote lead over Mike Hon. After a recount, the result in that race was confirmed.

“Of course, it certainly has implications. I actually do think this really highlights when we talk about the integrity of our elections and making sure our elections work well is making sure that we are open and transparent about everything we do. This is a good example where a minor error may have happened but we wanted to make sure that the candidates knew what had taken place. So my having a phone call with the candidates as well as notifying the Secretary of State I actually think shows just how robust our system here is in this state,” McGrane said.

McGrane said early in the process he made it clear he was happy to have a court rule on the issue if the mistake impacted the election result. Although rare, mistakes do happen, and trust in elections and results are rooted in making sure mistakes, of any size, are acknowledged and dealt with in a transparent way.

“We want to make sure we're open and disclose with everybody so that it is a fair election, and everyone can have confidence in the results, particularly the citizens of Meridian who are the ones who are headed to the polls to vote,” McGrane said.

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