Election denialists smacked down by Idaho secretary of state

Conspiracy theorists pushing misinformation about the 2020 elections took their allegations to Idaho, and Idaho officials pushed right back.

Top Gem State election administrators in Secretary of State Lawrence Denney’s (R) office said late Wednesday they had visited two counties to conduct a hand recount of last year’s presidential contest after hearing from readers of a website linked to MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, widely discredited for spreading easily disprovable misinformation in recent months. 

Denney’s office said it received allegations, in the form of screenshots of a report published on Lindell’s site, that vote tallies in all 44 of Idaho’s counties showed evidence of “electronic manipulation.”

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The only problem: At least seven of Idaho’s 44 counties do not use any electronic steps in their vote-counting process, making the claims impossible.

Those counties, all small rural areas, still count ballots by hand, bypassing electronics or machines altogether. That process is feasible because there are so few ballots cast.

“We call them Flintstone gaps,” Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said in an interview Thursday, referring to the cartoon Stone Age family with a pet dinosaur. “That’s not a bad thing. It is a defensive choice, a defendable choice.”

Houck said county clerks throughout Idaho — a state former President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE carried by a nearly 2-to-1 margin over President BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE in 2020 — had reported receiving threats after conspiracy theorists spread misinformation about vote tallies, and about alleged evidence of hacking into voting machines. 

“There have been counties that have received threats of harm at the county clerk’s office, at the poll worker level,” he said.

Some of those allegations included alleged geolocations of IP addresses, latitudes and longitudes which would, however implausibly, place servers on the tops of mountains.

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But Houck said Denney’s office was prepared to confront misinformation in hopes of offering real evidence that could prove or disprove the allegations.

“Any time you have allegations of any kind of impropriety, regardless of what they may be, and in this case widespread fraud, those don’t see or know boundaries, necessarily,” Houck said. “On step one, you go, this is just implausible. But nonetheless, we said if we were presented with information we would go run that information to ground.”

So Houck and a team from Denney’s office decided to conduct a hand recount of two counties, Butte and Camas, that had tabulated their ballots without machines.

“They actually reached out to us. They reached out to my elections clerk on Tuesday,” Butte County Clerk Shelly Blackner said in an interview. “When they came in, Chad Houck was very good about explaining what they were doing, how they were going to do it. He explained to us that they were videotaping, and they just started the process.”

The initial results reported in Butte County showed 1,193 votes for Trump and 188 for Biden. The misinformation on Lindell’s site alleged only 130 votes had been received by Biden — but, with Democratic and Republican witnesses looking on, Houck’s count, captured on video, found the expected 188 votes for the Democratic candidate. Trump’s vote tally rose to 1,202 — a nine-ballot difference amounting to a human error of 0.63 percent.

“I felt like we were very organized. We had everything in order for them,” Blackner said. 

In Camas County, the official tally was off by a single vote: Trump’s total rose from 507 ballots, as reported by the county, to 508, while the 149 ballots cast for Biden were all present. The margin of error — one ballot out of 674 cast — amounted to 0.14 percent.

The debunked claims are the latest in a series of allegations Lindell or his allies have made about the 2020 elections that have come apart under even the most basic scrutiny. 

Earlier this month Lindell visited Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) — and promptly claimed unidentified cybercriminals had flipped 100,000 votes in a state Trump carried easily. Merrill rejected Lindell’s allegations, for which he offered no evidence.

In an interview, Houck lamented the misinformation that continues to circulate nearly 11 months after Election Day, even in states where the results were never truly in doubt.

“Somewhere along the line people need to draw a line in the sand and say this is irrational,” he said. “It doesn’t justify the expense of wholesale going out and looking for what you think may possibly be a needle in what you think may possibly be a haystack.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Idaho's Secretary of State. He is Lawerence Denney. Lawrence Wasden is Idaho's Attorney General.