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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Idaho’s election transparency could be model

The Columbian
Published: May 10, 2024, 6:03am

When it comes to bolstering confidence in elections, officials in Idaho’s Ada County have an intriguing idea. And while the results will bear watching, the idea clearly is superior to a suggestion from Washington’s Republican Party.

Ada County, home to Boise and the state’s most populous county, has developed a tool allowing users free and direct access to scanned images of every ballot cast since 2022. Known as Ballot Verifier and developed by Massachusetts-based software company Civera, the system allows viewers to verify that votes are accurately tabulated. Voters’ personal information is not accessible.

“I don’t know that we can get more transparent than what you are about to see,” Ada County Clerk Trent Tripple said last month at a news conference. “There is everything that you could ever want to see when it comes to election administration in this application.”

Adam Friedman, founder of Civera, told technology news outlet Wired: “A lot of the conspiracy theories and divisiveness and toxic rhetoric and mistrust around elections in America goes hand-in-hand with people not being able to see enough and people perceiving voting as being a black-box experience. Ballot Verifier is really a way to turn a black box into a glass box.”

Indeed, divisiveness and toxic rhetoric have metastasized in our elections.

Claims of widespread election fraud — fostered by Donald Trump after he was rejected by the American people in the 2020 presidential election — have had no basis in fact. They have been rejected by dozens of courts. They have been rejected by Trump’s own lawyers, with Sidney Powell once admitting, “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.” And yet they persist.

So, when it comes to election transparency, Ada County’s experiment is worth a try — unlike the platform adopted by the Washington State Republican Party.

At their state convention last month, GOP delegates approved a plank calling for all ballots in the state to be counted by hand, rather than by machines. In the 2020 presidential election, more than 3.9 million votes were cast in the state. Now, according to the secretary of state’s office, there are 4.8 million registered voters in Washington.

In addition to the daunting logistics of counting all ballots by hand, it is folly to suggest that such a method would be more secure. Having teams of ballot-counters tabulate up to 4.8 million votes is an invitation for fraud, inaccuracy and subterfuge.

In Clark County, each election includes pre-election tests of the ballot-counting machines. It also includes a post-election manual count of approximately 600 ballots for a particular race, with the totals then compared to the machine tabulation. The results of that manual count, along with the signatures of 16 citizens who certify those results, are available on the county’s website.

Those are strong measures for reassuring the public, but there always is room for improvement.

As Ada County’s Tripple said: “We just decided there’s got to be a way that we can push back against this a little bit but also achieve that perfect marriage between technology and government records so that citizens, candidates, parties, everybody has access to all the information that we have.”

While ballots of recent elections are visible on the site, the first live test will be Idaho’s primary election on May 21. The results of the Ballot Verifier system will be as compelling as the political races.