Looking at the duties of Idaho’s secretary of state, it’s a wonder why anyone would want the job – especially someone such as Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane, who says he “loves” what he’s doing.
The secretary’s job description is far from glamorous. Duties include registering business entities, filing liens under the Uniform Commercial Code and registering “trademarks and service marks” within the state.
“The secretary is the keeper of the Great Seal of Idaho, and as such ss responsible for licensing notaries public, as well as authenticating documents and issuing apostilles.”
Whatever in the heck that means.
Then, there’s publishing Idaho’s Blue Book (a certain cure for insomnia), administering a “will” registry and let’s not forget serving as an “ex officio member of the Idaho Code Commission.”
Oh, there’s one other chore – and one that puts McGrane and two other strong Republican candidates (Deputy Secretary Chad Houck and Sen. Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene) in the race. The secretary of state oversees elections in Idaho, which becomes a high-profile position in the era of Donald Trump and allegations of irregularities in last year’s presidential election. Idaho was not so much in the limelight, because Trump won easily. But election integrity is high on the minds of Idahoans.
McGrane, a self-described “elections junkie,” has been Ada County’s chief election officer for three years as clerk – and longer than that as far as involvement with elections.
“My passion for elections began in 2005 counting punch cards and recruiting poll workers,” he says on his campaign website. “Since then, I have gone on to serve as a law clerk to the United States Elections Assistance Commission and have been involved in every aspect of running elections in Ada County.”
As a county clerk, he’s also the “courts guy” for lawyers and judges and the “budget guy” for county commissioners, so multi-tasking in the secretary of state’s office would not be a great transition. He already has working relationships with county clerks on elections, organizing a training program for clerks and staff. Being secretary of state would allow him to increase that involvement – which is another reason for seeking a career change.
First, he must defeat Houck and Souza, who also are vying to replace retiring Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. Souza is sounding alarms about the vulnerable nature of election security in the Gem State. McGrane disagrees with that assessment, saying Idaho elections are as airtight as people can expect.
“Idahoans have a lot to be proud of regarding how we run our elections,” he says. “In Idaho, we have good systems and good laws in place.”
Certainly, there are small irregularities that occur in almost every election. McGrane has isolated cases of people trying to vote in two counties, or occasional voters from other states casting votes in Idaho. One of the biggest problems McGrane has seen are felons trying to vote.
They don’t get away with it – at least not for long, and that’s because Idaho has sophisticated communication channels aimed at stopping fraud. “We catch these things and prosecute,” McGrane says. “I am the only candidate (in this race) who has been actively involved in voter fraud cases. We take it very seriously. Having a secretary of state who has been involved with that experience makes a difference.”
McGrane, a fourth-generation Idahoan (roots in Pocatello) is no stranger to the statewide political scene. He ran unsuccessfully for the office in 2014 against Denney and he’s familiar with county officials throughout the state. He’s well known by legislators and the media through his involvement with election issues.
There’s no question that McGrane has the qualifications for the job. The outcome may hinge on how Idahoans feel about election security overall – and who is best equipped to ensure the integrity of Idaho’s voting system.
Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at email@example.com