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Rep. Giddings files lawsuit over poll watchers

The lawsuit, filed on May 6, alleges "irreparable electoral damage" was done by preventing poll watchers from overseeing the processing of ballots.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Rep. Priscilla Giddings has filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State and various county clerks, alleging they were causing "irreparable electoral damage" by preventing poll watchers from overseeing the processing of absentee and early-voting ballots for the May primary being processed. 

Giddings, a Republican from White Bird who is running for lieutenant governor, filed the lawsuit on May 6. 

Under Idaho Code, each party can designate one person per polling place to be a poll watcher on Election Day during a partisan election. Those volunteers are allowed to be at the polls to watch poll workers count and receive votes. Another person - also limited to one per party to polling place - can be named as a poll challenger and allowed to challenge individual voters who they believe are not who they say they are or are ineligible to cast a ballot. 

In order to have a poll watcher or challenger present, the county chairman and secretary of the political party must submit a written request to the county clerk no later than 12 days before the election. The law does not address poll watchers or challengers at polling places during the early voting period, which ends Friday. There are also concerns that poll watchers would be compromising protected personal information if allowed to observe signature comparisons between absentee ballots and the state system.  

Giddings petitioned the judge for an ex parte motion - essentially an emergency ruling that would allow her volunteers to begin showing up at early voting locations and ballot collection sites immediately, before allowing those named in the suit a legal chance to respond.

Judge Jason Scott was unconvinced. 

"After reviewing the petition and the motion, the Court is unpersuaded that there is any substantial reason to proceed on an ex parte basis, especially not when counsel for Respondents [Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence] Denney and [Chief Deputy Chad] Houck is in place and wishes to participate," Scott wrote. 

In a hearing that began at 4 p.m. Thursday and went a little longer than one hour, Judge Scott heard arguments from counsel for Giddings and for the respondents, including Secretary of State Denney. He dismissed Giddings' petition on the grounds that Giddings did not present a "proper vehicle."

"A petition for a writ of mandate or a writ of prohibition is not an appropriate way to seek this sort of relief because there is a plain-speaking adequate remedy within the course of law available through a different means," Scott said, also saying that a petition for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction would have been proper.

The judge did not make a determination on whether Giddings or Denney  made the correct interpretation of the Idaho statutes on poll watchers or poll challengers.

Scott made a verbal ruling dismissing Giddings' petition, and said he would issue a "short, confirmatory written ruling in the next day or two."


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