How the new Bonneville County election office will enhance ballot security in NovemberPublished at | Updated at
IDAHO FALLS – With an upcoming election in November, Bonneville County is officially unveiling its new election office at 497 North Capital in Idaho Falls.
The two-story building, which was previously office space for a construction and accounting firm, was recently renovated to better accommodate equipment and the needs of poll workers amid the frenzy of election night. It also includes enhanced security measures to help prevent election fraud.
EastIdahoNews.com took a tour, which you can watch in the video player above.
“This building was geared to cover new legislative requirements (for elections),” Bonneville County Clerk Penny Manning tells EastIdahoNews.com. “We have motion detectors, we have night cameras and we have cameras on the drop boxes. We will have backup video for 90 days so that we can cover the whole span of an election.”
In the previous location at 825 Shoup Avenue, Manning says they were adding makeshift changes to keep up with election laws, so these new features are a big improvement.
All polling locations in Bonneville County now have scanning units. Once the ballots in every precinct have been scanned and recorded, they go into a box that’s zipped, sealed and taken to the election office.
The tally from each precinct is recorded on something similar to a flash drive. The results are fed into a machine that counts them for a final tally.
Every election worker is required by law to remain in the building until the tally is complete. Once the results are final, the ballots are put in storage.
“We put them in secure storage and leave it there until after the recount period, which is 20 days,” Manning explains.
After the 20 days, the ballots are moved to another location, where they’re kept for at least two years. A card reader on the door restricts access to select individuals.
Two people are required to be with the ballots at all times and cameras throughout the building provide 24-hour surveillance.
Manning says every ballot is tracked with a barcode through the entire process and state law requires the number of ballots to match the number of registered voters.
“If that doesn’t happen, we dig,” Manning says.
She recalls an instance when there were 15 ballots unaccounted for. Someone had inadvertently left them on a shelf in a school and they were able to find them.
Years ago, when the county was still using punch cards, Manning remembers a time when there were 123 more ballots than there were registered voters in that precinct.
“We determined that the person responsible for that probably ran some of those ballots through twice (by mistake),” says Manning.
As a result, the entire precinct had to be recounted.
“The nice thing with our new equipment is we can’t (count ballots twice). Each ballot is uniquely identified (with a bar code),” Manning says.
Manning has “a high level of confidence in her staff” and she says deliberate election tampering among county officials “would never happen.”
But during her second or third year as clerk, she recalls a case where a voter cast two ballots to boost his candidate’s results.
“Our job when we find things like that is to turn it over to the sheriff’s office. He does an investigation and then it goes to the prosecuting attorney’s office. I remember this case actually went to court and he was fined. I don’t remember the amount.”
According to Idaho Statute 18-2301, illegal voting or election interference is a felony and the maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Manning has noticed specific trends for elections over the years. She says there tends to be a higher number of voters at the polls during a presidential election.
During the 2020 primary when all the polls were closed due to the pandemic, the county sent out a record amount — nearly 20,000 — of absentee ballots. In a typical election year, Manning says the number of absentee ballots is around 4,000.
Manning says the ballot for the upcoming election is noteworthy because it will be two pages long for the first time ever and she’s anticipating a 50-60% voter turnout.
“We have had a lot of growth in the county this year and a lot of movement. There’s going to be a lot of people who aren’t registered. It’s going to be so much quicker if they get registered to vote ahead of time,” Manning says.
Election day is November 8. To pre-register, request an absentee ballot or find out where your polling place is, scan the QR code below or visit the county’s website.