Saturday, July 13, 2024

Election do-over will ensure voter confidence

by Daily Inter Lake
| November 26, 2023 12:00 AM

An unfortunate administrative error came to light at the 11th hour of Kalispell’s municipal election earlier this month.

According to the Flathead County Election Department, incorrect ballots were issued to some voters based on previous ward boundaries that had not been updated in the election software prior to Election Day. Approximately 8% of Kalispell voters — or roughly 1,400 ballots — were affected by the error. There are 16,894 voters in Kalispell, and a total of 2,869 ballots were cast in the election.

Last week county commissioners voted 2-1 to certify the election results, while signaling that a do-over is likely to come next. Commissioner Randy Brodehl was the lone dissenting vote, arguing that he was uncomfortable with certifying the election given the error.

“Voter integrity is key,” he said. “That is the No. 1 expectation of our citizens. No matter if we make a mistake or not, it’s important that every citizen's vote counts.” 

Brodehl is right on both points.

Election integrity is everything, particularly given today’s political climate where public confidence has waned in how elections are administered. According to a survey conducted earlier this year by The Center for Election Innovation and Research, approximately 30% of U.S. voters believe that election officials in their own state accidentally miscount votes somewhat or very often. While most trust election administration at the local level (84%), confidence decreases for state (82%) and national (62%) administration.

A 2022 Gallup poll showed similar results, with 63% of respondents saying they are very or somewhat confident in election accuracy — down from 70% in 2018.

Widespread voter confidence is a critical component of democracy and is something county officials must protect. In this case, admitting the mistake and conducting the Kalispell election again is the appropriate remedy, and we’re relieved to hear that Brodehl will contest the results in court himself if necessary. A re-do will only occur if a district judge approves holding a second election following a challenge by one of the candidates or voters.

Yes, re-mailing and recounting ballots comes with a financial cost, and the results seem unlikely to change given the margin of victory for each winning candidate. But scrimping or shrugging off the mistake would be more costly. Worst case, inaction and the perception of indifference could be weaponized as a mechanism to question and challenge all future election results — setting the stage for a frightening downward spiral of voter confidence in Flathead County.

Every voter must trust their voice has been accurately accounted for — a do-over is the right thing to do.