PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon State Elections Division is actively “gathering information” to determine if members of the political advocacy group “Citizens for Greater Idaho” violated state voter laws by attempting to influence the decisions of Wallowa County voters whose ballots were rejected during the 2023 special election.
Oregon Secretary of State spokesperson Ben Morris told KOIN 6 News that an inquiry was launched in response to a tip received by state elections officials over the weekend regarding an internal email written by “Greater Idaho” movement organizers. The email, obtained by KOIN 6 News, outlines a political strategy among the organization’s members to maintain the slim, eight-vote lead currently held by Ballot Measure 32-007 in Wallowa County.
If passed, the measure would make Wallowa County the 12th county in Eastern Oregon to require its commissioners to discuss pushing Idaho’s border west, allowing the Gem State to annex roughly half of Eastern Oregon. Wallowa County Clerk Sandy Lathrop told KOIN 6 News that the measure is currently one vote away from an automatic recount — something that Citizens for Greater Idaho hopes to avoid. There are currently seven outstanding rejected ballots in Wallowa County and June 6 is the last day for these ballots to be cured.
The Citizens for Greater Idaho email in question reveals that an admin within the advocacy organization sought to encourage voters with rejected ballots to cure their ballots — as long as they voted in favor of Measure 32-007. In the email, titled “help us avoid a recount,” the admin provided members with names, ages, party affiliations and sometimes the partial addresses of the Wallowa County voters whose ballots were rejected by the county clerk’s office.
“The Greater Idaho ballot measure is ahead now by eight votes and seven ballots have yet to be cured,” the Citizens for Greater Idaho email reads. “The county clerk has notified the owners of those seven ballots that they need to come in and fix them on or before June 6. Only one of them is a republican and three are democrats. On June 7, if we are only ahead by seven or less, there will be an automatic recount. We want to avoid a recount. So please help us get all the ‘yes’ ballots cured, but not any more ‘no’ ballots.”
The email also asked supporters with a questionnaire seeking information about these voters, which, in theory, could help the group motivate the like-minded voters to cure their ballots. The prompts included: “How close are you to each of these people, as friends? If you have a reason to believe one of these people would vote ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ on Greater Idaho, tell me about it. What is [their] phone number and email address?”
“I will ask the person who is closest friends with these people to encourage them to bring their ballots in and tell them about the danger of a recount, if you all think [they] probably voted ‘yes,’” the email reads. “But we shouldn’t say anything to them if they probably voted ‘no,’ because we don’t want to encourage no votes to fix their ballots! Do NOT contact any of these people or spread news unless I choose you to be the person to do it! Do not share this email.”
It’s the contents of this email that raised concerns among Oregon’s elections officials that Citizens for Greater Idaho may have committed “undue influence” or other voter law violations in an effort to avoid a recount. State law defines undue influence as: “Undue influence to affect registration, voting, candidacy, signing petitions; solicitation of money or other benefits.” Based on the Citizens for Greater Idaho email, Morris said that the elections division is currently gathering information to determine if an official investigation is necessary.
“The Elections Division has been informed of this incident and is gathering additional information,” Morris said. “We cannot comment on whether this message is a violation of the statute [ORS 260.665]. The Division will only issue an opinion through their official investigatory process.”
Citizens for Greater Idaho spokesperson Matt McCaw confirmed that the sender of the email was one of the organization’s administrators. However, he said he was not aware of the email in question or any practices within the organization related to the contents of the email.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” McCaw told KOIN 6 News. “We have sent out to our supporters [emails stating]: ‘If you have a ballot that was challenged and you need to fix it, we encourage people supportive of our movement to do that.’”
The Crook County resident said that he was also unaware that state elections officials were actively considering an investigation into the organization. However, he said that he is confident that members of Citizens for Greater Idaho did not violate any voter laws.
“That’s the first time I heard of that,” McCaw said. “We take all election laws very seriously and we try very, very hard to follow the letter of the election law to a T.”
Based on the information available at this time, Lathrop said that she isn’t aware of any voter law violations that have occurred in relation to the measure. The county clerk said that she was disappointed to see the names of the seven voters with rejected ballots posted to social media but said that the information became public record on May 31. KOIN 6 reached out to multiple voters affected by the doxing but did not receive a response.
“I can’t do anything,” Lathrop said about the voter names posted publicly to social media. “It’s unfortunate that they sent that out … All I know is that I can’t do anything about it.”
Lathrop confirmed that as of June 6, seven rejected ballots remain uncured in Wallowa County. If a single ballot voting against the “Greater Idaho” measure is cured before 5 p.m. Tuesday, a recount will ensue for the entire county.
“Every ballot that was submitted has to be hand counted,” Lathrop said. “We’ll have to pull out each preceding box, pull out each ballot and count each backlot. It’s a lengthy process.”
In the event of a recount, Lathrop said that the clerk’s office will have about a week to complete the task in order to have a finalized election report prepared for the Secretary of State by June 22. In her 20 years working for Wallowa County, Lathrop said she’s never seen a countywide vote result in a recount.
While the issue has seemingly divided the county, with 1,752 residents voting in favor of the measure and 1,744 residents voting against it, McCaw said that “Greater Idaho” measures spreading across Eastern Oregon are currently more about conservative voters being heard in the Democrat-run state of Oregon than focusing on how the region would actually become part of Idaho. Despite the majority of support currently shown by voters in 12 counties around rural Oregon, it remains unclear how the proposed “Greater Idaho” border change would actually occur.
“It’s designed to allow people to have their voices heard on this and let elected officials know they want their voices heard,” McCaw said. “State legislature will decide where the border goes. [The measure] gives Eastern Oregon a voice and chance to say: ‘Here is what we want our elected leaders to do.’”