From the June 2000 Idaho Observer:
FBI Investigates Vote Fraud in Benewah County
by Hari Heath
Was there vote fraud in Benewah county during the last primary election? Was it intentional or just a neglect of duty? Did it occur on a scale large enough to change the outcome of the election? Should the election be declared void?
In Idaho, would be voters have the instant registration option. It requires a valid picture ID, 30 days proof of residency in the county and the filling out of a voter registration form. The address section of the voter registration form only asks for the following: Residence address: do not use P.O. Box or business address. If no street address describe location of residence, cross streets, section, township, range, etc. Notice of the instant registration option is posted at the polls, and it's the law.
Benewah county has also been implementing a Rural Identification Number or RIN addressing system during the last several years. The beneficent reason for the new addressing system is to help law enforcement and emergency crews locate rural dwellers. It more properly could be called the FEMA number, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency will also find the numbers helpful to catalog and locate their citizens.
What happened when Benewah county resident Linda Tacner went to vote in this May's primary election?
Linda lives on a rural gravel road. The county building inspector, Mike, was in charge of issuing the new address's and he issued a new RIN address to her. She also had her Idaho drivers license reissued in November of 1999, to conform with her new RIN address. The Post Office has required her to change her mail box from her former rural route box number to the new RIN address and send out address corrections.
When Linda went to vote, after showing her ID and proof of residency, the registrar said she would have to check this address. She said she didn't recognize this address and she would have to call. Linda asked who she was gonna call and the registrar said Didi at the courthouse. The registrar then called Didi at the courthouse and Didi said it wasn't a valid address. Linda then asked the registrar to either talk to Didi's supervisor or let her talk to Didi's supervisor.
They put Kay Sather, the county's Auditor and Recorder, on the phone and this is what Linda reports was said:
Linda talked to Kay Sather and told her This is the RIN address that Mike, the building inspector, gave me.
Kay said, Well we don't have a record of it. Linda told her that, The record is downstairs in the court house, in Mike's book and you can find my name and address in it and I was also required by the Sheriff's Department to change my Drivers License to this address and I was required by the Post Office to change my address to conform to this address, and I want to vote.
Kay Sather said, Well it's not a valid address, do you have a power bill?
Linda answered I don't have power.
Kay said, What else do you have with that address?
Linda said I don't need anything else. I presented myself with a valid picture ID and 30 days proof of residency.
Kay said, Well, we can't find that address, it's not been approved.
Linda asked, Not been approved by whom?
Kay said, It's just not an approved address.
Linda then said, You send my tax bills to this address. I'm the legal owner at this address. You want me to use the legal description to vote but the legal description is not on my picture ID?
Then Kay said, Well, you can't vote.
Linda then told her, Either I can vote or you're gonna find yourself on the defendant end of a lawsuit.
Kay said, Well, it's not me, it's the county commissioners.
Linda replied, Fine we'll have multiple defendants.
Kay then replied, Well, you're not the only one that we've had to turn away.
Linda asked, Why would you have to turn anyone away?
Kay said, Because the county commissioners haven't gotten around to voting to approve the new addresses yet.
Linda said, Just because the commissioners have dropped the ball and they issued all these addresses and we're required by various agencies to use these addresses, but they haven't gotten around to voting on it, that cannot preclude me from voting, from exercising my right to vote. Linda told her, You have five minutes to decide whether I get to vote or not.
Kay said, Since you put it that way, no.
Linda didn't get to vote. The workers at the precinct told Linda they had to turn away quite a few people today because of the addresses. Linda said the precinct workers at the Plummer Community Center wanted her to talk to Kay Sather because they were tired of explaining to people why they couldn't vote. They said somebody ought to straighten out St. Maries (the courthouse).
The people who were turned away tend to be rural people living on remote roads, rather than intown residents. Generally, voters who live remotely tend to have different views, including political views, than city dwellers. As an example of election management, it is a regular practice in Benewah county to hold school elections on a different date, even if they are in the same month, as was the case this year. This practice continues, even at greater cost to the taxpayers, because typically, if school elections are held during a general election they are less likely to pass. Especially school bond issues. History has shown that school only elections draw more yes voters.
In this primary election, the only contested race in the county was the Republican sheriff's race. National and state legislative offices were also on the ballot in Benewah county. How many people were turned away at the polls is uncertain at this point. Bob Loe defeated Dave Resser 550 to 416 in the Republican sheriff's race.
Bob Loe has worked for the county for many years. He was a deputy years ago but was fired by then Sheriff Kirts, allegedly for official misconduct in an assault case where the sons of Commissioner Bud McCall were defendants. Bob Loe continued to work for the county, first at the dump and then on the road crew. He was hired as a deputy during the current Sheriff Blackburn's administration.
Dave Resser has been a logger in the area for many years and a western boot maker. Dave has been active in cowboy action shooting and western re-enactment events.
Who might be the more popular candidate with those living remotely and therefore recently receiving RIN numbers, and who might be more popular with residents in town?
Bottom line, Kay Sather said no to Linda's right to vote. Linda's nearest neighbor had requested an absentee ballot from Kay Sather's office, which was denied for the same reason.
The Commissioners were aware, one, that their failure to approve the new RIN addresses would mean that there were alot of people that wouldn't have valid addresses for instant voting; and two, they went ahead and made that a criteria for registering voters, which resulted in turning away voters. Especially remote, rural Idaho voters.
Linda also said that Kay had told her The Commissioners met and when we set up the election this is what we determined to be the correct procedure for verifying addresses, meaning that the RIN addresses weren't to be used for voting.
The county-wide effort to impose the RIN numbers on most rural areas of Benewah county has left many with the new unapproved addresses. Might there have been 134 people -- enough to make the difference in the Sheriff's election -- living on a dirt road somewhere in Benewah county (population about 8,000) with unapproved addresses, who didn't want Bob Loe for Sheriff? And what about the state and national primary elections?
Wednesday morning, immediately following the primary, Linda went to the local newspaper, the Gazette Record, and told the entire story to Editor/Publisher Dan Hammes. Linda then contacted the U.S. Attorney's office in Couer d'Alene. The U.S. Attorney first suggested that she contact her county commissioners. Linda replied, The commissioners are the ones who invalidated my vote.
His office then suggested she contact the FBI which she did. She explained the situation, and that she wasn't the only one turned away from the polls, to FBI agent Gail Gneckow, who said, If that's true then the election would probably be void.
Linda contacted KXLY TV4 by sending them an e-mail outlining the story with the FBI agents name and number. They failed to reply or investigate further. She returned on Thursday and talked to Dan Hammes of the Gazette Record and gave him the name and number of the FBI agent. Linda told Dan she was trying to get in touch with the people who were turned away and asked him to publish the story and inform people that there is an open investigation with the FBI. Several issues of the Gazette Record have been published but they have not mentioned anything yet about the vote fraud in their county. Linda then contacted the local KOFE radio station who said they would run an announcement twice a day as a public service announcement and give out the FBI agent's number to contact.
She then contacted Senator Craig's office and told them that the FBI suggested that she contact her elected representatives and let them know that there was an open investigation into people being denied the right to vote in the Benewah county primary because she and others were turned away from voting. Kay, one of the staff in the Senator's office said, I don't think we have jurisdiction over that.
Linda replied OK so you just want me to write it down that Senator Craig isn't concerned that any of his constituents are illegally turned away from the polls? Or that we're not allowed to vote in North Idaho?
Kay responded Oh well, I don't know.
Linda answered, This was a primary for national elections. If you're telling me that the senator's office doesn't care that the citizens can arbitrarily be turned away from a polling place in a national primary, then I guess I am talking to the wrong people.
Kay replied, Well, maybe there might be something we could do about that.
Linda said, Well, maybe there's not and I just made the wrong phone call. But if anyone else calls, would you let them know the FBI is interested and they are investigating it and they believe that if they find that it is widespread, then the election results in Benewah county could be overturned?
Linda gave her the FBI number.
It seems that those in county offices and the local newspaper think that federal felonies and citizens' rights are irrelevant. Apparently they want this issue to bury itself under the rug. Many Benewah county citizens tend to look the other way when the crack in our local government's egg becomes obvious. However, an unknown number of Benewah county citizens were denied their fundamental right to vote while those responsible for the election may have committed federal felonies.
Linda Tacner is considering filing a civil lawsuit which others who were denied voting may join. The FBI is also continuing their investigation. If you wish to join in the lawsuit or have other information regarding this primary election, you may write to: Election, c/o Box 256, Santa, Idaho, 83866, or e-mail BRUSHFIRE@dmi.net.
If you were denied the right to vote in this election you may also contact FBI agent Gail Gneckow in Coeur d'Alene at 664-5128.
Mr. Heath has been the Brush Fire columnist for The Idaho Observer for several years and is now branching out to be a roving reporter.