Friday, January 31, 2014

No basis for criminal charges in alleged Winchester voting irregularities

Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Pall released a statement Tuesday finding no basis for pursuing criminal charges based on allegations of voting irregularities that arose following the Winchester City Council election held in November 2013.

The declination follows a lengthy investigation conducted by the Nez Perce County Sheriff’s Office, which was brought in as an independent investigator.

Shortly after the November 2013 election in Winchester, a number of individuals alleged that residents of Lakeside Residential Home in Winchester voted improperly and/or may have been coerced or bribed for their vote.

Residents of Lakeside were given money on the day of the election, according to the statement from Pall’s office. The fact the election took place Nov. 5 meant the money the residents received at the first of the month was dispersed on that date.

“Lakeside has cooperated in providing an accounting of the money disbursed and the sources of that money,” said the statement from Pall’s office. No evidence was found—much less enough for a criminal prosecution—that individuals at Lakeside were paid for their votes, according to the statement.

Another of the allegations indicated that a Lakeside resident didn’t want to vote or be present to vote, but was indicated to vote anyway. This statement was contradicted by the statements of other individuals present, including that of the resident, according to Pall.

It was also alleged that personal gain on the part of Lakeside may have been a motivation for encouraging its residents to vote. No evidence of this was found, according to Pall’s statement.

Some individuals at Lakeside do not reside there voluntarily—they have been committed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, or are present under a court-ordered guardianship. This means they may or may not be residents of Lewis County; may in fact may or may not be entitled to even register as residents of Lewis County.

Because the ability of individuals under commitment to declare residency is unclear, facilitation of their votes was not a criminal action, according to the statement from Pall’s office.

If those residents were, in fact, ineligible to register as residents, then their votes would indeed have been illegal, and they could be charged with a violation of Idaho Code 18-2304. Persons under commitment have been adjudicated as mentally ill, and a court has deemed them unable to care for themselves; they are then dispositioned to various locations, such as Lakeside.

A provision in Idaho Code 66-325 provides that time spent at a facility does not contribute to residency; however, courts have found that certain restrictions on voting are unconstitutional, or have otherwise upheld the decision to declare residency.

Based upon this, as well as conversations with the staff of the offices of the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, Pall feels parts of this law are unclear enough that it would be impossible to prove anyone from Lakeside knowingly aided or encouraged an illegal vote (assuming any votes from Lakeside residents were illegal in the first place).

In the meantime, because the law is so unclear, Pall has requested a formal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General regarding the ability of individuals under commitment to declare their residency

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