So, you think that Idaho elections are safe and secure? Sen. Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene disagrees – strongly enough to pursue a political career change.
The four-term Republican senator is running for secretary of state in next year’s GOP primary, and while she does not have the experience of running elections as her two opponents, she has definite thoughts about finding and fixing problems associated with Idaho’s election system.
This race is a good one. It includes Phil McGrane, perhaps the political “establishment” favorite, who is the Ada County clerk and often a media go-to source for information about elections. Chad Houck, the secretary of state’s chief deputy, knows how the office works and is looking to succeed his boss, Lawerence Denney, who is retiring. Souza is a proven conservative and strong communicator who has a message that strikes a nerve with a generous number of Republicans.
Her interest in the secretary of state’s job is not out of the blue. She told Denney about her thoughts about seeking the secretary of state’s job soon after he was re-elected three years ago; his announced retirement this year opened the door. Her skepticism about elections goes back to 2009 when observing a court case over a local election that was decided by five votes.
“I thought at the time that elections were pretty cut and dry and that we could depend on the security of elections, but this is not what came out in this court case,” she said.
And today, Souza does not buy the notion that elections in Idaho, or anywhere else, are squeaky clean. More than a few Idaho Republicans will nod their heads in agreement – especially those who think Donald Trump won the presidential race.
If Souza wins, don’t expect a push for Washington State’s style of vote-by-mail. She’ll also be on the lookout for involvement from “liberal technology companies” in elections.
“As technology changes and cultures change, we need to be update our accessibility and the way we protect our rights,” Souza told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “There are always people in other places in the world and even in our country who want to do things in a less-than-honest way to get their results.”
As for Idaho elections, she said, “We may think that Idaho is invincible when it comes to elections. We are an independent state where people have guns, are conservative and think we are great when it comes to elections.”
But she says there are vulnerabilities, more than some of Idaho’s top election officials will admit.
For instance, “Do you think we have voter ID in Idaho? We do not. If you go to the polls to vote, they will ask you for your photo ID. If you don’t have it, they will give you a piece of paper and have you sign your name, promising that you are who you say you are, and then you cast a ballot. Think of the mischief and how that can be misused … and it could be misused on a large scale,” she said.
“We need to focus attention and effort to make sure that Idaho elections are as safe and honest as they can be,” she said. “None of us knew that elections in 2020 would put this massive spotlight on secretaries of state. But if you look at polls, people are saying that election integrity is their No. 1 issue.”
Souza says there are other bugs in the election system, in addition to the flawed voter ID. Souza serves on a national panel called “Honest Elections Project,” and says she has heard horror stories about elections through swing-state legislators in the group.
“In the wake of last year’s tumultuous election, it’s clear that to preserve voters’ faith and trust in our democratic process, we must safeguard election integrity,” she said in her announcement.
During her years as a senator, Souza said she has been at the center of 13 election-related bills. Policy issues, ultimately, will remain with the Legislature if she wins the office, but she says she will work with legislators – from both houses and both parties – to shore up election laws as needed and ensure that the system is fair for all.
Her opponents may argue that elections are fair for all on the large scale and experience in running elections counts. With Souza in the mix, this campaign will not be boring.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com