We sometimes hear Idaho’s County Clerks spoken of dismissively as mere clerks– low-level functionaries just there to carry out the orders of county commissioners. Those dismissive individuals might be surprised to learn that elected Clerks are the heart and soul of most counties in the Gem State. Idaho law says they serve as clerk of the courts in their county, as well as ex officio auditor, recorder and county commission clerk.
When I started practicing law in Jerome in 1973, it did not take long to learn how much influence the Clerk had over county business. The Clerk, Virginia Ricketts, was the institutional memory for the commission board, helping it to avoid legal pitfalls while guiding it to efficiently perform important county functions. In addition, she oversaw the maintenance of county records, recording of property documents, auditing of county records and operating the courts in the county.
Virginia’s staff was invaluable in providing copies of public documents that a young lawyer could use as a guide in drafting papers for clients–something law schools did not teach. Other Magic Valley Clerks were similarly helpful, both to lawyers and the general public. And, so it is today in Idaho’s 44 counties.
Another important responsibility of the elected Clerks is to oversee elections in the county. When I took office as Attorney General in 1983, I learned that Idaho’s elected Clerks were doing an outstanding job of administering elections. They still do so to this very day–running elections efficiently and honestly. Indeed, the Clerk who ran the largest county voting operation, Phil McGrane, was recognized for the excellent job he did by being elected as Idaho Secretary of State in 2022. He had the support of hundreds of county officials who were familiar with the high quality of his work.
During the Secretary of State campaign, one of Phil’s opponents in the GOP primary, Dorothy Moon, made a raft of unfounded claims regarding the integrity of Idaho elections. In 2021 she had given credibility to claims of fraud peddled by an out-of-state pillow merchant. Those claims were quickly debunked by grownups. Moon’s claims of election fraud in Idaho fell flat, except with her committed base of election deniers. When she was unable to show any instances of election irregularities, she made the preposterous claim that Canadians were trooping over the border to vote in Idaho.
Moon’s election denial and false fraud claims helped her to lose the primary race for Secretary of State, although she came frighteningly close (43.07% to 41.41%) because of a three-way race. Extremist Republicans rewarded Moon by making her head of the State GOP. Who said losers never prosper?
Moon’s incredible misconduct has cast an undeserved shadow over Idaho’s competent, largely non-political County Clerks. Most Idahoans can see through her unfounded claims of fraud, but some of the mud from an accomplished mudslinger always sticks.
Now the GOP boss is slinging mud at the Open Primaries Initiative, which will open up Idaho’s elections to allow all voters to participate. The initiative is a direct threat to the stranglehold that Moon and her acolytes have gained over access to legislative positions in Idaho. Extremists can win primaries against reasonable, traditional Republican candidates with as little as 8.8% of the registered voters in a legislative district. The party bosses know the initiative will destroy their monopoly of power.
Among other false claims, Moon contends that election officials, our County Clerks, will not be capable of running efficient, fraud-free elections under the ranked-choice system. She knowingly slanders the ability of these dedicated public servants. In the words of Chris Rich, who served 13 years as Chief Deputy to the Ada County Clerk and then 8 more years as elected Clerk, “Idaho election officials will be able to honestly and accurately tabulate the election results under the initiative. Given the appropriate tools, the Clerks can manage most any election. We are every bit as capable as the election officials in Alaska and Maine, both of which have ranked-choice voting.” Idaho’s elected Clerks are completely capable of performing this work, just like every other task they are called upon to perform. Ignorant slurs will not stand in the way. Give them your respect.