The losing candidate in a Coeur d’Alene City Council race filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the outcome, naming all council members as defendants, along with the mayor, the city clerk, and Kootenai County’s clerk and elections manager.
In the November general election, Jim Brannon lost to incumbent City Councilman Mike Kennedy by five votes, according to results published by the Kootenai County elections office. Brannon said in a news release that he didn’t intend the lawsuit as an indictment, but he said with a race that close, he owed it to voters to ensure it was conducted properly.
“The facts revealed that built-in election safeguards were not completely followed,” Brannon said. “Given the closeness of the published results, these failures have compromised the election process to the extent that the totals and the result of the election would change.”
Mayor Sandi Bloem, a defendant, and City Attorney Mike Gridley said they hadn’t seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment. Councilman Kennedy said he hadn’t seen it either, but added: “I’ll be getting lawyers and responding appropriately.”
County Clerk Dan English, a defendant, said he has a “high degree” of confidence in his employees and procedures.
“We get good feedback for running a good elections program,” he said. “At the same time in a process that includes thousands of ballots and thousand of voters, hundreds of poll workers and dozens of polling places, obviously there’s some room for inadvertent human error. We do the best to minimize that. When an election gets this close, it’s not surprising people would take a hard look at every part of it. That’s OK. It will be a learning experience for us as well.”
The lawsuit filed Monday in 1st District Court in Kootenai County seeks to “set aside, void, annul” all or part of the election. The majority of the issues it raises concern the county’s handling of absentee ballots. However, Brannon’s attorney, Starr Kelso, also said that under Idaho law it was illegal for the county to run the city’s election in the first place.
The lawsuit delineates a list of ways in which the defendants allegedly mishandled the election. They include: failing to determine whether people seeking ballots in the city of Coeur d’Alene were city residents; failing to maintain a poll book for absentee voters that included names and addresses; not addressing discrepancies between the numbers of ballots received and scanned; and allowing a Kootenai County resident to vote in a city precinct.
The lawsuit states that the plaintiff posted a $500 “good faith” bond, despite saying the law does not require posting a bond “for the appeal of an aggrieved person from a municipal election.”
However, English said the next step would be to set a bond hearing with 1st District Judge John Mitchell “because they have to post a bond that covers the cost if they’re not successful,” English said. “That will be up to the judge to decide.”