Unlike a lot of people in the political world, one measure of success for a secretary of state is getting zero media coverage – especially after elections.
Broad publicity can only mean that something horrible happened – such as tainted ballots, massive voter fraud and the infamous “hanging chads.”
So, in that respect, Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney had a good day after the elections. He was satisfied that Idaho’s elections were conducted fairly and efficiently – as they generally have been for many decades – and there were no suggestions to the contrary.
Denney has said repeatedly that integrity in elections is a top priority for him as secretary of state, and he says his colleagues from other states are committed to the same principle. But President Trump, apparently, has a different view. He talked about elections being “rigged” during his campaign for the presidency, and has turned it up a notch since taking office. Trump contends that massive voter fraud cost him the popular vote. Democrats, meanwhile, are up in arms over the possibility that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, had something to do with Trump’s win.
Another assault to U.S. elections – and to secretaries of state -- came from the Department of Homeland Security. Shortly before Trump took office, the department declared state elections as “critical infrastructure.” That directive raises questions with Denney and his colleagues belonging to the National Association of Secretaries of State.
“I agree that elections are critical, but what does declaring elections as a critical infrastructure mean? Does it mean the federal government wants to take over running elections? We don’t have one election in Idaho; we have 44 separate elections,” Denney said. “If somebody is going to hack into a system, how are you going to get into all 44 counties. It’s impossible.”
The National Association of Secretaries of State called the homeland security’s action “legally and historically unprecedented,” jeopardizing states’ authority over the election process.
As the NASS statement reads, “Americans need to know that the November 2016 election – the voting process itself – was not hacked or subject to manipulation in any way. No credible evidence of hacking, including attempted hacking of voting machines or vote counting, was ever presented or discovered in any state. State and local authority over elections is our greatest asset against malicious cyberattacks and manipulation.”
As for Trump, his allegations of election fraud are not going away. Before the election, NASS fought back against “unsubstantiated claims” about rigging and hacking of elections. The organization’s response to Trump’s latest tirade is more measured, saying that the organization is interested “learning more about the administration’s concerns.”
Denney says if the FBI, or any other federal agency, wants to investigate Idaho’s elections, they are welcome to it. Idaho uses paper ballots in all 44 counties, and there is accountability that goes with the process.
“Before the election, county clerks take ballots to precinct judges and the judges are responsible for every one of those ballots, regardless of whether people voted,” Denney said. “If 500 ballots are handed out, and there are votes on only 400, the judges have to account for every one.”
Even with those safeguards, Denney says, elections are not fool-proof. One county didn’t print enough ballots, which was easily solved, and there were isolated cases of individuals trying to vote twice. One voter in the Lewiston area was discovered to also be registered in Washington State. Such incidents, along with human error, happen in almost every election.
“But there is no massive voter fraud,” Denney said. “If there was massive voter fraud, there also would be massive collusion and we would know about it.”
Idaho’s elections are held to high standards, and Denney is confident that his counterparts from other states have similar commitments to integrity. Denney thinks there may be a silver lining with Trump’s allegations.
“If he carries on with an investigation, I think that he will come to the conclusion that massive voter fraud does not exist,” Denney says. “If that happens, it will strengthen the confidence in our election system even more.”
And Trump, with his “huge” ego, will have to accept that he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.