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Two of three Idaho GOP secretary of state candidates deny Biden won 2020 election

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Aaron Kunz
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Idaho GOP secretary of state candidates Phil McGrane, Mary Souza and Dorothy Moon participate in the Idaho Debates on Idaho Public Television on April 26, 2022. (Aaron Kuntz/Idaho Public Television)

McGrane, Moon and Souza made their case to primary election voters during the Idaho Debates on public television

Two of the three candidates running in the Idaho Republican primary election for secretary of state incorrectly said President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election during a televised statewide debate Tuesday night.

Responding to a question during Tuesday’s debate about whether Biden fairly won the 2020 election, Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Challis, said they do not think so.

Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane said Biden did win.

“It is so interesting that you ask that question because it is a reflection of just where we are and so many of the current concerns that have come out of the 2020 election,” McGrane said. “Joe Biden was elected president during the election, but one of the things I have seen and experienced as I have traveled around the state is the concerns that Idaho voters have.”

The other Republican hopefuls disagreed.

“I have a different opinion. I do not think that Joe Biden won the presidential election, but he has been named president and that’s been certified,” Souza said. “So I am not suggesting we would go back, but we have to learn from what happened. There were many things. I will call it death by a thousand cuts, as the Chinese would put it. It was ballot harvesting. It was ballot boxes that were … video taped … but they were not manned. It was a lot of small changes in law that were significant during the COVID crisis in many of the swing states, and they were not done legally by the state legislatures.”

Moon also disagreed.

“No, I think there was a big problem when we noticed at 11 o’clock at night all of the battleground states decided to go to bed and then they were going to start back up at 8, 9 or 10 in the morning,” Moon said. “In my lifetime, I had never seen that happen nor had most Americans who stay up that late to watch for the results. So sadly, you know, the fact of the matter is we had to deal with it. Everyone was in shock, a lot of us. Based on polling, President Trump should have been re-elected.”

Elections officials, audits and judges across the country — including the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office — said widespread claims of voter fraud and illegitimate election results made by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and supporters of former President Donald J. Trump were “without merit.”

Secretary of state is an important position in Idaho that oversees elections, voting and campaign finance in Idaho. The office is also responsible for business services, including annual reports and trademarks, as well as maintaining Idaho’s will registry. The secretary of state also serves on the Idaho State Board of Land Commissioners.

Debate revealed differences in GOP secretary of state candidates

There were several major differences among the candidates that emerged. McGrane highlighted his experience as Ada County clerk, where he has helped run dozens of elections in the state’s largest population center.

“You can hold conservative values and still build trust across all political spectrums, and it’s one of the things I have done in my role, both as county clerk and as an elections specialist, over the years,” McGrane said. “I think one of the biggest things that we can do is to provide training and education for our clerks and for the elections workers.”

On the other hand, Moon and Souza made election integrity and security a theme, continually saying they would push for tighter elections laws and requirements.

“We have to have our eyes wide open in Idaho and say we have to secure our system,” Souza said. “Even if we don’t have fraud right now, it is coming and it is all around us. We need to make sure we have a safe system.”

Moon also pushed elections security and citizenship requirements to vote.

“We cannot allow any illegal vote to take out a legal vote in this state, and that is what I will do,” Moon said.

During the 2022 legislative session, Moon unsuccessfully pushed several versions of a bill that would have made several changes to voting laws, including prohibiting the use of a sworn affidavit or student ID as an acceptable form of voting. An early version of the bill would have eliminated same-day voter registration at the polls in Idaho, a fact Moon never disclosed during that bill’s introductory hearing.

Souza, who also said student IDs should not be allowed to vote, said she has also pushed 15 bills aimed at election integrity.

During the debate, Souza and Moon questioned and disagreed with McGrane’s use of private grant funding during the 2020 election. According to previous Idaho Capital Sun reporting, in September 2020, McGrane said he was alerted to an opportunity to apply for election administration grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit organization in Chicago. The organization, which was funded in part by Facebook founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, said it distributed $350 million in election administration grants in 2020 nationwide.

Souza introduced a bill that was passed in the 2021 session of the Idaho Legislature barring counties from accepting money from private entities for election administration purposes.

All three Republican candidates for secretary of state, McGrane, Moon and Souza, participated in Tuesday’s debate. The hour-long debate was the third and final primary debate from the Idaho Debates and was broadcast live on Idaho Public Television and streamed on YouTube.

Incumbent Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is not running for re-election.

The winner of the May 17 GOP secretary of state primary election advances to the Nov. 8 general election to face off against Democratic candidate Shawn Keenan of Coeur d’Alene.

Idaho Republicans backed out of many of three major debates this primary season

Idaho Debates organizers canceled three other debates after one or more Republican candidates backed out of participating. Organizers canceled the planned lieutenant governor’s debate scheduled for April 18 after Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, backed out of the debate after initially agreeing to participate and then demanding to approve the reporters who serve on the debate panel asking questions.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, refused to debate his Republican opponent Bryan Smith, which prevented a debate among GOP hopefuls running in the second congressional district Republican primary.

Gov. Brad Little announced April 15 that he would not participate in the governor’s debate, and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin indicated to debate organizers that she would not participate in the debate if Little didn’t. Organizers canceled a pending governor’s debate April 19 after McGeachin did not respond to their invitation to reconsider and debate against Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Humphreys, who also qualified for the debate, Idaho Press Club President Betsy Russell said.

Idaho Republicans backed out of statewide debates just as the Republican National Committee backed out of the Commission on Presidential Debates, NPR reported.

There are no Democratic primary debates this year. There are no contested Democratic statewide races or legislative races this year, and Democrats are not fielding candidates in most races. There is a contested Democratic primary election for a seat in the U.S. Senate, but more than one Democratic candidate did not submit materials attempting to qualify for the debate, Idaho Debates moderator and lead producer Melissa Davlin told the Idaho Capital Sun earlier this month.