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Lessons learned? Ada County clerk shares his experience with Idaho's first election done entirely by mail

County clerks across Idaho were faced with a tough challenge - to reconfigure their process to facilitate absentee-only voting.

ADA COUNTY, Idaho — Results are now in for a memorable 2020 primary election, which was conducted entirely by mail for the first time ever.

Now that it's said and done, how did it go?

“Certainly, we are happy to have this election behind us because it’s been more of a marathon than most elections have been in the past,” said Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane. “It was a long night, longer than we’ve had in quite some time. We finished the night at about 4:30 a.m., that’s when we got the [final] results posted.”

RELATED: Complete May primary election results

McGrane, clerk of Idaho’s most populated county, says while things ended up working out, the road through the primary had plenty of challenges.

“We got about, what I would say, two days notice to switch from our traditional polling place election to doing an all-mail election and that’s really where it hurt us. We are not built, we do not have the infrastructure to run an election this way and part of the time it took last night is a reflection of us not having what we need to be able to do it in this manner,” McGrane said.

The big news was the historic turnout. Voters submitted just under 96,000 ballots, beating the previous record of 79,000. McGrane says he always loves to see high turnout; he believes the state marketing the primary like never before really helped.

“The Secretary of State’s office sent an absentee request to every registered voter. Normally you don’t see the state put so much money and energy into informing people there is an election, and making it easy to do it,” McGrane said.

To cut down on the workload on election night, Ada County staff worked all day Monday and Tuesday processing ballots. But the last-minute ballot submissions added a lot of work.

“It was that final stretch, it was all of those ballots we received on the final day because they came in at the last minute,” McGrane said. “It was really a surge of results and then it took hours and hours to get those last 16,000 done.”

RELATED: West Ada, Middleton school funding requests fail

It’s unclear exactly what the November general election will look like, but McGrane says they are already thinking ahead.

“I doubt that November is going to be an all-mail election in Idaho. I think there was some resistance initially to doing it. We will see what the pandemic looks like at that point and that might obviously drive decisions, but I do think it will be some hybrid,” McGrane said.

Already, 70,000 people in Ada County have requested an absentee ballot for the November election.

Over the summer, the clerk’s office will be looking at their processes and equipment needs.

“We issued ballots that had some errors and we had to correct those, and we got new ballots to all the voters,” McGrane said.  “We certainly felt the pain in this election in terms of needing to tighten those things up so that it will go much more cleanly.”

Overall, he says it was a valuable experience to set up the future of voting.

“This primary was really a good test for kind of the big show when it comes to November,” McGrane said.

RELATED: Ada County's election breaks records for votes, sets up November races

RELATED: How does Idaho prevent mail-in voter fraud?

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