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Primary election in Twin Falls saw first poll watchers in recent years

A white vote here sign in front of the Idaho Power sign.
Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio

A push from a few Idaho political campaigns to sign up poll watchers means some counties are seeing their first election observers in a long time.

On the primary election day in Twin Falls, Kathy Thomsen of Buhl scribbled down names in a notebook as a clerk announced who had voted.

“Making sure the numbers add up for these precincts,” she said.

According to Idaho code, poll watchers are allowed to observe, but not interfere in, the voting process.

Thomsen was one of nine poll watchers in Twin Falls County that day. She and a few others participated in early voting, too. It marked the first time Kristina Glascock, the county clerk, could remember having poll watchers there.

Perri Gardner, a political science professor at the College of Southern Idaho, was the election judge at this precinct.

She said for bigger elections, poll watchers have been used as a “get out the vote” tool. Campaign representatives could call headquarters to try to boost turnout.

“But I think maybe we’ll see this observance as the main purpose in the future,” Gardner said.

County Clerk Glascock said she wasn’t sure.

“The more we can educate and inform citizens of how the process works and the controls that we have in place, then they may find it extremely boring, once they understand the process, to come and sit for 12 hours,” she said.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings (R-White Bird), who lost her bid for Lieutenant Governor to House Speaker Scott Bedke, made the biggest push to sign up watchers statewide. Candidates can put forward one watcher per polling location to the county clerk 12 days in advance of the election.

The Idaho Republican Party and local central committees also appointed poll watchers throughout the state.

In Twin Falls, all but one poll watcher was affiliated with Giddings’ campaign, including Thomsen.

Thomsen was motivated by unsubstantiated claims of election fraud in the 2020 election, though she said Twin Falls has good election procedures.

Giddings filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State and a few county clerks in May, including Glascock in Twin Falls, alleging they were preventing watchers from observing early voting and the counting of absentee ballots. That lawsuit was dismissed.

Thomsen said it showed Idaho’s code regarding the roles and responsibilities of poll watchers and challengers needs to be clarified. Glascock said it’s a law that has been on the books for a long time with few issues.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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