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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Kootenai County poll worker accused of distributing critical race theory pamphlets at polling location

A Hayden Lake woman faces a $1,000 fine after she was accused of handing out pamphlets about critical race theory while working as a poll worker during November’s election.

Laura L. Van Voorhees, 67, pleaded not guilty Jan. 31 to the charge of electioneering, which carries a maximum penalty of $1,000. She is scheduled for a jury trial May 2 in Kootenai County Magistrate Court.

Van Voorhees has been a vocal critic of Coeur d’Alene Public Schools, accusing it of promoting critical race theory. She is also a well-known member of last year’s indoctrination task force headed by Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin.

The school district says it does not teach critical race theory, which is an academic concept that says racism is ingrained in policies and legal systems, not just the product of individual prejudice. The theory is a hot-button political issue that has divided school districts across the country and became a prominent theme in fall school board campaigns nationwide, including in Coeur d’Alene.

David Eubanks, a retired teacher of 43 years who spent five years on the Coeur d’Alene School Board, told Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office deputies that he voted Nov. 2, Election Day, at Maple Street Community Church in Hayden, according to a sheriff’s office incident report. While he was there, he heard Van Voorhees, one of the poll workers that day, speaking to a voter about critical race theory.

Eubanks said in the report that Van Voorhees asked a voter if she wanted a critical race theory brochure, but the voter refused. Eubanks reportedly told Van Voorhees she was not allowed to hand out brochures, and Van Voorhees told him she could hand out the brochures because the topics were not related to the elections being voted on that day.

Eubanks told Van Voorhees it did not matter whether the brochures had information pertaining to the election. It was still unlawful to hand them out, he said.

The two reportedly continued to dispute whether her actions were lawful, the report stated.

Eubanks told The Spokesman-Review that he yelled at her in front of everyone before leaving.

“If we can’t protect the sanctity of the polling booth, we may as well throw in the towel and give up on our democracy,” said Eubanks, who reported the incident to the sheriff’s office.

He said he hopes “justice prevails” when it comes to Van Voorhees’ trial, and that the sanctity and integrity of elections are protected.

Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh said he couldn’t recall another electioneering case during his 13 years in office.

Idaho code states no one may “do any electioneering” or “circulate cards or handbills of any kind” at or within 100 feet of a polling place on the day of an election.

Denise Makinson, who was presiding over the poll workers that November day at Precinct 19, said she told Van Voorhees multiple times to stop handing out the pamphlets but she continued, according to the incident report.

Cathy Hudson, a Precinct 19 poll worker, said in the report she witnessed Van Voorhees give a pamphlet to a voter. She said Van Voorhees told the voter to hide it in her sweater.

Van Voorhees, who declined to comment for this story, told deputies her attorney directed her not to provide a statement without him present. When asked whether she had the pamphlets she was handing out at the poll station, she reportedly told deputies she did but would only provide them to law enforcement if her attorney allowed.

Asa Gray, Kootenai County elections manager, told deputies all poll workers are required to attend training prior to working the polls. Gray said in the report that poll workers are told they are not allowed to hand out any paperwork and must remain neutral while working the polls. He said Van Voorhees attended the training.

Gray told deputies he had a copy of the pamphlet he believed Van Voorhees handed out that day. It was titled “Practicing Critical Race Theory in Coeur d’Alene.” It contained information regarding critical race theory being taught in schools, the incident report said.

The pamphlet reportedly had a Coeur d’Alene School District logo on it.

Scott Maben, director of communications at the district, said Van Voorhees also handed out critical race theory flyers to attendees at a fall board meeting. He said the district’s logo was on the flyer and district officials asked her to stop distributing the flyers with the district’s logo on them because the district was not affiliated with the papers.

“She kind of just blew us off,” Maben said.

Maben said Van Voorhees addressed the school board at several board meetings in recent months. He said she has spoken about critical race theory, but has transitioned to speaking about things like social and emotional learning and equity.

Maben said the district’s position on critical race theory has been pretty consistent since the issue flared up last year.

“We don’t teach it, we don’t embrace it, we don’t train our staff on it,” Maben said. “It’s not embedded in our curriculum.”

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