Editorial: Elections should hinge on voters, not judges
Coeur d’Alene City Council candidate Jim Brannon faced a deadline this week. Monday was the last day he could call for a cost-free recount in the five-vote squeaker by which Councilman Mike Kennedy survived last month’s general election.
Instead of pursuing that familiar solution, though, Brannon chose an alternative response that is becoming an American ritual. He went to court.
There’s a plausible case to be made for such a strategy, given the allegations spelled out in Brannon’s suit. He doesn’t claim that the tabulation of ballots – 3,165 for Kennedy, 3,160 for Brannon – is inaccurate. He believes the election itself is flawed, so the outcome would be flawed, too, even if unchanged.
So skip the recount and get right to the lawsuit.
But the scattergun approach is nevertheless unsettling. The challenge names about a dozen city and county officials, elected and appointed – all in their official capacities, of course. It alleges defective actions, including some practices that have been common (and uncontested) for years. It asks that the entire election be invalidated, but if not the whole election, then at least the Kennedy-Brannon race.
Yes, that’s the way litigation works.
That’s also what causes the discomfort.
We recall the 2000 presidential election, resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court after anxious weeks. We certainly remember the back-and-forth 2004 Washington gubernatorial race over which court action revealed numerous electoral flaws but showed that they actually favored Dino Rossi. We remember the drawn-out 2008 U.S. Senate race in Minnesota, ultimately won, in court, by Al Franken. (He did win, right?)
In Idaho, an election outcome as tight as Kennedy and Brannon’s (less than one-tenth of a percent) entitles the loser to a recount, a court challenge or both. Such circumstances don’t arise often, although five city races in the state’s 2009 election reportedly resulted in recounts.
The court challenge option isn’t exercised as often, but Kootenai County Clerk Dan English (one of the defendants in Brannon’s case) said the secretary of state’s office told him it’s on the rise. That’s not an encouraging development.
If there is clear evidence that Coeur d’Alene voters’ intentions were undermined because state law wasn’t followed, it is well concealed at this point. If the law needs to be changed, the Legislature is the place to do it.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen too many elections decided lately by courts instead of voters.