The legal challenge to the recent Coeur d’Alene city elections could end up helping all voters in Idaho. The silver lining in this stormy tussle is that the election laws of our state will be examined in fine detail by lawyers, judges, media and the public.
And some close scrutiny is probably long overdue.
Did you know that to get a hunting or fishing license here, you must prove that you’ve lived here for SIX MONTHS? If you don’t have a driver’s license, you have to prove your residency by showing TWO of the following:
--rent receipts or mortgage statements for the previous six months
--home utility bills for the previous 6 months
--a notarized statement from an employer on business letterhead
--proof of voter registration dated 6 months prior
(Info from Idaho Fish and Game web site)
And you must renew your hunting/fishing license and reconfirm your address EVERY YEAR.
But to register to vote, or even to run for elected office, you must only live in the municipality for 30 DAYS.
The most famous local story is when Mike Kennedy ran for CdA city council back in 2005. His house was not in CdA. His wife and their six children lived in the home that was not in CdA. (They were not divorced or separated.) He ran his business out of his home office in the home that was not in CdA. But Mike claimed he fit the residency requirement to run for elected office in CdA because, for 30 days beforehand, he “rented” a basement bedroom from a friend who lived in the city.
City clerk Susan Weathers, in charge of city elections, and chief city attorney Mike Gridley agreed that the residency requirement was fulfilled. (Kennedy had worked as a key person on Gridley’s failed campaign for Idaho legislature the year before and Gridley openly donated to Kennedy’s city council campaign.)
I digressed a bit into that story because it’s so incredulous (no conflict of interest between Gridley and Kennedy, oh no), but also because it’s important to understand this: These are the same officials who are involved in this year’s election challenge!
The Kootenai County elections department is also involved in the legal challenge because the city contracted them to run part of the election this time. The elections department responded to inquiries about where certain voters live, by saying “we’re not the residency police”. Well, gee, maybe we should put Fish & Game in charge, they seem to have a closer handle on who actually lives here!
And once you have registered to vote, you’re on the honor system to report if you change addresses or move out of the area. You certainly do not have to re-register each year, or ever...or even prove that it’s YOU voting! There’s no ID required!
Think about how often you are asked for ID in this day and age. You can’t cash a check without proving your identity. You can’t use a credit card without it, you can’t even shop at Costco without showing a photo ID card.
Yet our most important freedom tool, our vote, seems, by comparison, to be casually bantered about. No ID required to vote. No renewal or proof of address. The integrity of our election system is essential to our trust in government. If we, the people, don’t believe that our elections are fair, it will undermine the very fabric of our democracy.
So I’m glad we are getting out a very big spotlight to shine on the details of Idaho election law. We, the voters, may find ourselves lucky that Jim Brannon’s race against incumbent Mike Kennedy was decided by only FIVE VOTES. And Dan Gookin’s run against incumbent Deanna Goodlander had only a 29 vote difference. Maybe these incredibly, historically close races will be the impetus for improved laws, processes and procedures. And maybe the increased focus and publicity will convince reluctant voters that the system can be fair and every single legitimate vote does count.