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Reporting error reverses one Idaho Democrat’s apparent legislative win, county office says

“I Voted” stickers await voters at O’Connor Field House in Caldwell, Idaho on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for the Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
“I Voted” stickers await voters at O’Connor Field House in Caldwell, Idaho on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for the Idaho Capital Sun)

Republican Jack Nelsen wins over Karma Metzler Fitzgerald after reporting corrections

The number of votes counted in Jerome County were incorrectly reported on the Idaho Secretary of State’s office website, which made it appear that a Democratic candidate won, the Jerome County Elections Office said in a press release Thursday.

While the Jerome County release did not specify which candidates were affected, Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said the miscount affected Legislative District 26, Seat B, which initially showed Democrat Karma Metzler Fitzgerald as the winner by 383 votes. Under the new legislative map created after redistricting, District 26 includes Blaine, Lincoln and Jerome counties.

After the tabulation was corrected, Metzler Fitzgerald lost to Republican Jack Nelsen by a small margin of 83 votes, according to the new totals. It also tightened the margin of victory for Democrat Ned Burns to just 38 votes, and Democrat Ron Taylor’s victory over Republican Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome, to 512 votes rather than about 1,000, but did not change the outcome.

Houck said Jerome County consulted with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office to determine the cause of the discrepancies and found there was a missing “vote type” configuration between the tabulated results and the way the results were published on the secretary of state’s website on election night.

The elections office marks ballots according to absentee, early vote and Election Day differentiators to track statistical information, Houck said, and when the results were reported to the state, the ballot type for early votes was not factored into the overall total. He likened it to an Excel spreadsheet formula that failed to capture one column’s data.

“Even though the data in the table was an accurate reflection of what their machine results were and what they had reconciled that night, what was visibly seen by the public did not reflect those numbers,” Houck said.

The incident underscores the fact that all results published on election nights are unofficial until the canvassing process is complete and results are certified, Houck said, but it also reflects the checks and balances that help ultimately ensure the outcome is correct. The deadline for the Idaho State Board of Canvassers to meet and certify election results is Nov. 23.

“It is important to understand that the original totals printed by the tabulation equipment were accurate, remain unchanged, and allowed for the correct reconciliation with poll book records and voter counts as calculated on the evening of Nov. 8,” the release said.

Houck reiterated that the hard copy results were correct, and would stand up to a recount if the candidate requests one.

Avery Roberts, spokesperson for the Idaho Democratic Party, said the party isn’t sure whether they will request a recount yet.

“Our next step is to look at the official county canvass. Once we receive that, we’ll have a better idea of whether or not a recount makes sense,” Roberts said.

Metzler Fitzgerald posted on Facebook on Wednesday that she had already applied for keys to the Idaho Capitol, a parking permit and committee requests, and planned on attending legislative meetings in Lewiston on Monday.

Prior to the reversal, the balance of power in the Idaho Legislature remained unchanged from the prior year. Now Republicans have gained one seat, with 59 Republicans in the Legislature and 28 in the Senate. Democrats now have a total of 18 seats between the two chambers.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.