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Idaho secretary of state candidates debate election fraud


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Idaho secretary of state Republican candidates debate during an Idaho Public Television debate Tuesday. Pictured left to right are Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley.

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In a testy debate centered on election security, two of the three Republican candidates for Idaho secretary of state avowed their false belief that Joe Biden lost the 2020 presidential election.

Despite numerous efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to uncover fraud, there is no evidence the 2020 election was wrongly decided. But candidates for the office that oversees Idaho’s elections staked those claims anyway.

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said that Biden lost the election. Only Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said Biden was duly elected.

Idaho’s Republican primary is on May 17, and the winner of the Republican primary will face Democratic candidate Shawn Keenan in the November general election.

The secretary of state candidates appeared in a televised debate on Idaho Public Television on Tuesday night to discuss issues ranging from voter identification laws to the State Board of Land Commissioners’ endowment — which helps fund institutions like Idaho’s public schools. The secretary of state is a member of the land board.

McGrane, the only candidate with direct experience in managing elections, emphasized his background as an attorney and prior work on elections in his pitch to voters.

“I hope that you will see experience counts in this race,” he said.

The two other Republican candidates focused their barbs on McGrane, whose candidacy has been endorsed by three former Idaho governors.

Among other allegations about recent elections in Ada County, Souza accused McGrane of accepting “Facebook money” on behalf of Ada County during the 2020 election.

Multiple counties in Idaho — including Ada County — accepted election administration grants during the 2020 election from a Chicago nonprofit called the Center for Tech and Civic Life, according to the Idaho Capital Sun.

Around 2,500 grants were distributed in 49 states, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, supplied some of the organization’s funding.

Though Souza previously told the Capital Sun that no Idaho county used the money for any purpose other than “proper elections processions,” she said she sponsored a bill to ban further similar contributions in future elections.

In her remarks, Souza said Idaho has “antiquated” election laws that need updating, citing a report by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, that gave Idaho a low election security rating.

“Even if we don’t have fraud right now, it is coming and it is all around us,” she said.

A partial recount of 2020 ballots in some Idaho counties validated the accuracy of the results, despite claims that the tallies had been manipulated.

Moon focused on the state’s affidavits system, which allows voters who come to the polls without photo ID to sign an affidavit swearing that they are correctly identifying themselves. Moon said that law should be altered.

“We cannot allow any illegal vote to take out a legal vote in this state,” Moon said. “We have to have government-issued photo ID to receive a ballot.”

She added later, however, that she does not “trust the government because you never know which administration is in place.”

During the legislative session, bills allowing U.S. citizens to add a “USA” marker on their driver’s license as proof of citizenship and the creation of a system of post-election audits became law.

Souza, Moon question 2020 election results

Despite evidence to the contrary, Moon and Souza both claimed Biden lost the 2020 election.

Souza said the election was “death by a thousand cuts” due to a litany of debunked fraud claims. Moon said there was a “big problem,” adding that Idaho should have supported the Texas lawsuit filed to contest the results in swing states that had voted for Biden and certified results.

At the time, Idaho’s Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said “the legally correct decision may not be the politically convenient decision,” and didn’t support the lawsuit.

The U.S. Supreme Court later tossed out the lawsuit on the grounds that Texas did not have standing to intervene in the affairs of other states.

About two-thirds of Idaho voted for Trump.

McGrane touts experience in elections

In response to claims about his management of elections in Ada County, McGrane said both Moon and Souza misunderstood various election processes.

After an issue with the printing of ballots in a local Ada County election was discovered, Moon said McGrane “had to seek counsel from the secretary of state and the attorney general’s office.”

McGrane said state law required him to do that.

“I sought the counsel and assistance of the attorney general and the secretary of state because that’s what Idaho law requires,” he said. “I did not have the legal authority to address it.”

After Souza said McGrane had previously stood in the way of changing the state’s affidavit system, McGrane said he had provided alternate legislation, while noting that he thinks the problem is overblown.

The vast majority of Ada County voters provide a driver’s license when they vote, McGrane said, while about 1% of voters use either military ID, tribal ID, student ID, a concealed weapons permit or an affidavit. He said the use of affidavits “isn’t a rampant problem.”

“We actually have controls in place so we can track it and enforce our laws at each polling location,” he said.

This story was originally published April 26, 2022 10:49 PM.

Ian Max Stevenson is a breaking news reporter at the Idaho Statesman. If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a subscription to our newspaper.
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