By Devon Downey, Idaho Reports
A group of Ada County election officials and volunteers were ready to scrutinize the nearly 18,000 ballots cast this November, looking for 7 votes that would kick Sen. Martin out of office and replace him with Jim Bratnober.
Six votes stood between a complete flip of District 15 from Republicans to Democrats with Reps. Luker and McDonald already losing their races. With such a small margin, it was clear that a recount would be requested.
The recount process for this race is dictated by Idaho law. A sample of 5% of the votes cast is to be counted by hand, compared to the results from election night, and then counted by machine. If the difference is 1% or more, then a hand recount will be required. If not, machines will recount the votes.
To put this in perspective, 1% of a sample this small could mean that there is a large number of votes changed throughout the district. 5% of the total votes in District 15 would be 895. To trigger a hand recount, 9 votes would need to change. If only 8 votes change, a machine recount would still be used.
Extrapolating that to the entire District means that there could be 160 votes that were miscalculated by the machines, but will still be recounted by machines because that wasn’t enough of an error to require a recount by hand. That total is over 26 times larger than the margin between Martin and Bratnober.
CWI could be even larger. Over 175,000 ballots were cast, meaning that there could be a change of 1,740 votes throughout the county that could change and not be recounted by hand. That is over 12 times what CWI needs for the levy to pass.
Even without a hand recount, the election results could be changed.
The recount process started on December 3rd when Ada County officials and volunteers did a hand recount of roughly 5% of the total vote in the district. 926 ballots were counted from the second precinct in the district, all of which were cast on election day.
The ballots were split between 9 teams of 4 volunteers who would check and record each vote.
Around 9:50, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk (and Ada County Clerk-elect) Phil McGrane explained that the hand recount matched the results from election night.
Well, they did after a minor math issue that terrified the vote counters.
McGrane explained that when calculating the votes, some of the columns were misleading, causing everyone to count ten more votes than there really were. This lead to a preliminary count that added an extra 180 votes.
After finding that mistake, everything went smoothly. Officials started using the machines to count the sample. If the machine recount were off by 1% or more, then a hand recount would have been triggered.
But just like the hand recount, the machine recount had the same totals that were found on election night.
These recounts should “make people feel more confident,” McGrane said. The most important thing was to get the count right.
When asked about his preferences for recounts, McGrane expressed reservations about recounting all of the ballots by hand, explaining that human error usually makes problems more likely. Machines don’t have the same errors that humans do and therefore are better equipped to handle recounts.
Volunteers started working on the sample for the CWI levy after they finished the Senate recount. McGrane stated that they are counting 9,615 ballots for that sample from 10 to 12 precincts.
Like District 15’s recount, the numbers will be tallied at the end and compared to the election night results. When that is done, they will do a machine recount. If the results match, there will be a machine recount for all of Ada County’s ballots. A hand recount will be done if those results vary by more than 1%.
While the sample ballots were counted by the machines quickly, it is going to take a few days for the machines to do all of District 15’s ballots. McGrane expects to know more either by Wednesday or Thursday.
The CWI results will take much longer. Over 190,000 ballots were cast in Ada County on election night, which means we may not know the results for a few weeks.
As contentious as some of the elections in Idaho were, the recount for one of the closest races this year was anything but that. A quiet room of volunteers continues to work on counting ballots, but unlike what we have seen in elections across the country, Ada County’s recounts look to be going very well.