Glitch with ballots impacts tight race for Meridian council seat

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The race for Meridian City Council Seat 6 between top candidates Luke Cavener, the incumbent, and political newcomer Mike Hon, was tight. It came down to 56 votes.

Scott Garbarino, who did not campaign, was also on the ballot and earned 785 votes.

The close race led to Hon announcing he was requesting a recount in which he would have to pay $100 per precinct recount. Since then, new information has come to light: the Ada County Elections Office did not rotate the three candidates’ names on absentee ballots as required.

“Mike Hon participated in a conference call with Phil McGrane, Ada County Clerk, and the incumbent in Meridian City Council Seat 6,” Hon wrote in a news release. “In this conference call, Mr. McGrane stated during the administration of the election for this specific city council seat the county clerk’s elections office became aware of an issue regarding the rotation of the names of the candidates on the ballot and had the possibility of being relevant to the outcome of the race for Seat 6.”

[Meridian council candidate Mike Hon will ask for a recount following a close loss]

Per Idaho Code, candidate names must be rotated by precinct. This means each candidate’ss name should appear first on a proportional share of ballots.

What happened

Hon attached a letter from Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane addressed to Idaho’s Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. The letter shows McGrane explaining what happened and asking for advice.

McGrane told BoiseDev that after a staffer caught the error on the absentee ballots they corrected the election day and early voting ballots.

“We had already issued thousands of absentee ballots throughout the county and we confirmed that any changes to any one race would affect all ballots for all races with the Hart Verity System,” McGrane wrote. “”Given this, we corrected the rotation programming and directed our ballot printing vendor, Caxton’s, to reprint all Election Day ballots at significant cost. This ensured proper rotation for all early voting and Election Day voting ballots, but not the absentee ballots. Given the limited nature of the issue, we made note of it, recognizing that if there was a close outcome, we would need to make anyone involved aware.”

He added that the absentee ballots were semi-rotated meaning they were set to rotate for two candidates when there were three.

McGrane continued in his letter saying he reached out because the race was close enough. 

“Due to the rotation issue, Mike Hon’s name did not appear in the top place on any of the absentee ballots. Had the rotation on the absentee ballots matched the rotation used for all other ballots, 757 ballots issued would have had Mike Hon’s name in the top place. Of those 757 issued, 560 of those ballots were returned with votes cast in this race,” McGrane wrote.

McGrane is asking that the Secretary’s office look over this matter and determine what the appropriate actions are.

“We recognize and acknowledge that the results of this race are narrow, and that the rotation error occurred. As a result, I would like to suggest that you exercise your authority pursuant to Idaho Code § 34-213 to seek district court review of this matter. A review would determine if the issue is significant enough to warrant a new special election for this race or, if it is not, to maintain the current results and proceed with any other statutory processes,” McGrane wrote.

He continued saying that the elections office is ‘ready and willing to cooperate.’

“One benefit of seeking this type of review is that it would provide a forum for all parties involved, including the candidates, to weigh in on the significance of the rotation issue with the absentee ballots,” he wrote. “We are ready and willing to cooperate with all parties involved to address this matter and stand ready to proceed with whatever course of action is determined to be best to address it.”

BoiseDev reached out to Luke Cavener for a comment but did not hear back by deadline.

McGrane has announced his candidacy to replace Denney for Secretary of State in next year’s May primary.

Autum Robertson - BoiseDev Reporter
Autum Robertson - BoiseDev Reporter
Autum Robertson is a BoiseDev reporter focused on Meridian and McCall. Contact her at [email protected].

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