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A Boise, ID neighborhood annexed by the city in 2014 was left off the voting rolls for almost five years – frustrating residents and leading some to seek a refund of their property taxes. The Statesman has more:
Blue Valley Mobile Home Park, a community of about 900 people in Boise’s far southeast corner, was annexed into the city in 2014. But when it came to city elections, Blue Valley voters were disenfranchised.
A clerical error kept about 150 voters off the city voting rolls in the 2015 city election and 190 in the 2017 election, according to a county elections official, even though property owners were paying city taxes by then.
At least one resident identified the problem as early as 2015:
One resident, Jennifer Wiley, told the Statesman that she went to her polling place to vote in the 2015 mayoral race just to be turned away.
An Idaho Statesman reporter who reviewed voting rolls was unable to find a single Blue Valley address on more than a hundred pages of voting rolls for November city elections in those years — the first two elections in which Blue Valley residents should have been able to vote.
Blue Valley, along with other homes near the neighborhood, is assigned to Precinct 1803 in Ada County. When Wiley got to her polling place, poll workers told her she wasn’t eligible to vote in the city election.
They ended up calling Phil McGrane, then chief deputy for the Ada County clerk, who agreed that she wasn’t able to vote because her address wasn’t in the city.
“I was so mad,” Wiley said. “I paid Boise city taxes, and I wanted to vote for mayor. Whether it went my way or not was immaterial. I wanted to practice my civil right.”
Wiley said she called McGrane again after leaving the polling place. She said she left a voicemail about how ridiculous the problem was but never heard back.
“It felt like being defeated,” Wiley said.
McGrane is now the county clerk, overseeing the elections office. He could not be reached for comment Thursday. A spokeswoman said he was attending an elections conference out of state.
County officials acknowledge that they should have been responsible for adding Blue Valley to the rolls, which has now occurred:
Mike Journee, spokesman for Mayor David Bieter, said that as far as he was aware, the county was tasked with ensuring that voters appeared on the rolls.
“We want everyone in our city to have their opportunity to elect their representatives, to have their right to vote,” Journee said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s a shame this happened. I wish we had known about it sooner so it could have been fixed sooner.”
Voters in Blue Valley were added to city rolls in June, county Election Director David Levine said Wednesday, after Blue Valley residents realized what had happened and complained. He said officials are looking into how the problem occurred and who is responsible.
He said the number of people left out is believed to be smaller than the difference in any single election. Election results support that statement.
“That doesn’t excuse anything, however,” Levine said.
Blue Valley residents note that they were unable to vote in two key elections where voters made decisions about taxes and chose city officials:
In 2015, city residents voted for mayor and three of the six city council seats. They also voted to raise taxes for two years to raise $10 million to protect water quality, native wildlife and open space. In 2017, city voters chose the other three council members and voted on a second levy after the city of Boise erred and did not tell the county to add the levy to property owner’s tax bills.
Levine said Wednesday that he had not yet contacted the Secretary of State’s office, which is tasked with administering state election laws in Idaho.
Some residents think the city should reimburse them for property taxes they paid without the right to vote on them:
Bonnie Hardey, the president of the South Eisenman Neighborhood Association and a resident of Blue Valley, said residents have “had to fight a little harder” just to get the rights traditionally granted to community members…
“They should be compensated for this error,” Hardey said. “Whether it’s development in the neighborhood — we need sidewalks and better roads, we need a park. Or they should get reimbursed their taxes.”
It’s not clear if reimbursement is possible. Journee said the residents benefited from money paid for city services.
John Gannon, a state representative from a Boise district that does not include Blue Valley, said he was researching what potential consequences were. He called the disenfranchisement “an honest but serious mistake.”
A representative of the Idaho secretary of state’s office said no one was able to comment Thursday.
This story is just the latest example of what happens when mapmakers from one part of local government are not coordinating with the elections office. While the number of voters affected may not have been enough to sway the outcome of any Boise race, it is undeniable that Blue Valley residents were improperly excluded from the ballot box. It’s the kind of problem that election officials, with help from efforts like the NSGIC Geo-Enabled Elections Project – are hoping that GIS technology can help solve. Bottom line – any time a jurisdiction’s boundaries change, the election office should be on the list of those alerted in order to assess the consequences of the change; otherwise, the problem of voters like Blue Valley’s being left out will just reoccur. This will be especially important as district lines change across the nation after the next round of redistricting. Keep an eye on the map – and stay tuned …