City Government

Eagle Voters Burned In “Stealth Election”

About 90% of Eagle residents who went to the polls Tuesday missed out on an important Fire District vote because that election was held at a single location apart from the other 6 polling precincts.

About 3,000 residents voted in Eagle in the primary, but the permanent Fire override tax levy had fewer than 300 ballots cast. Final tally was 210 in favor and 85 against.
Eagle Fire.jpg

There are 7 polling places in Eagle where people voted in the primary election on candidates for congress, legislature and county offices. Fire commissioners offered only a single location–Fire Station #1– to cast a ballot on the tax override which increased property taxes for everyone.

Eagle Fire Chief Dan Friend defended the single polling place saying, legal notices were posted in the local newspaper and he had spoken to various groups about the measure. He also cited costs of election workers at about $700 per precinct as being a factor in the decision to limit voting to just one location.

The GUARDIAN feels there was unnecessary confusion Tuesday. People simply should not have to drive all over town to vote on each issue. If 7 precincts is appropriate for a primary election, those same 7 precincts are appropriate for an important permanent tax increase.

In their defense, firefighters passed out printed information prior to the election informing people of the single polling place. We think it was inadequate and inappropriate to expect people to make a second trip to vote after voting for primary candidates.

Ada County Clerk and chief county election officer David Navarro agreed with the GUARDIAN saying, “It only makes sense to vote in the same place on the same day. We would have been happy to partner with them so people could vote with just one trip to the polls.”

“There was definite confusion for voters, but Fire Districts conduct their own elections and I absolutely respect that law,” concluded Navarro.

Bottom line: fewer than 10% of the people who ACTUALLY VOTED were able to raise the taxes for 100% of the property owners. The Fire District woul have made a good investment if the voters had the convenience of voting at each of the 7 precincts. Voters got burned.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. For having held a “stealth election” (which would seem to be a code word for unseen or secret), there sure were a lot of people who still managed to find the location. In hind sight (which is often easier to locate on boiseguardian it seems) the firemen probably should have at least put up signs at all the precinct locations as a reminder. However, there were more than just the seven polling places involved in reaching or alerting District patrons since the Eagle Fire District doesn’t just entail Eagle but parts of Boise and Garden City to the east and Ada County (i.e., not Eagle residents) to the north and west. By identifying one single polling place and advertsing it in all the material produced or otherwise generated, the District may have actually made it less complicated in identifying where to vote.

    In trying to raise awareness of the bond vote the firemen went door to door throughout the district handing out brochures (that identified the voting location), legal advertisements appeared twice in both The Idaho Statesman and the Valley Times newspapers (that identified the voting location), the department spoke about the election numerous times at numerous public meetings since February (and identified the voting location), the department appeared at the Chamber of Commerce candidates forum to talk about the election (and identified the voting location), and the fire chief appeared in a Channel 6 story the week before the election talking about current district response times, the bond and, of course, identified the voting location.

    In other words, for a “stealth election” there were what seem like plenty of chances to find out about the opportunity to vote and where to do so. Perfection? No. Difficult to cast a ballot? Nope. Open to criticism? Of course — as always. Would that have been the case if the bond had failed?

  2. Stephen: You sound like you are a fireman. If the Fire District did all the things you say they did (and I believe you) they certainly were not very effective. They only got 10% of the people who came to the polls because they WANTED TO VOTE. I can’t believe 90% of the people voting didn’t care about fire protection or a tax increase.

  3. It’s difficult to get people to turn in a ballot past the partisan pages to vote the white non-partisan pages. Each voter has to be TOLD as they are handed a ballot “You’ll vote either the blue or the green pages and please make sure you turn all the way to the back and vote the non-partisan pages”. Election boards in virtually every polling place are trained to remind voters…even though the set of instructions is directly in front of them and tells them. I can’t even phathom this happening.

    I guess it’s easier to get 66 and 2/3% if you only have a few hundred people vote. Especially if those people are all volunteer firefighters or their families! Not a novel concept, but certainly not a very inclusive one. Now folks are on to them, try getting something real important passed some time. My guess is it won’t happen.

  4. I was astonished to hear about this election yesterday (Wednesday). I drive by the Floating Feather firehouse frequently. I listen to local radio most of the day, watch at least one local news channel every day, I subscribe to the Statesman, the Idaho Business Review and Valley Times, and I read all three pretty thoroughly. At no time was my eye caught by any notification of this special election. I expect I would have voted in favor but this is just ridiculous – just a sign at the other polling places would have been helpful, or a reminder from a poll watcher.

    The appearance is that this was a sneaky deal and I don’t like it. This should have been on the ballot at every polling place.

  5. I think the Attorney General should investigate this situation – it smells of election fraud.

    If I were a voter in Eagle and I was not properly notified that alone should invalidate the vote. Proper notification is a state law.

    EDITOR NOTE–The sad truth is they appear to have done everything by the book. Legal, but not very effective.

  6. Eagle should have done more than just announce it in the newspaper and they owe it to their citizens to do a better job of getting the word out.

    With newspaper subscriptions declining at an alarming rate nationwide, it is time to re-think the notification standards we’ve relied upon for years. The old timers who set up those standards were of a different period of time when most of the population relied on their newspapers for the news. They knew if they put it in the paper, the word would get out. Sadly, those days are quickly fading away.

    Anymore when I hear that I should have known because it was announced in the newspaper, it tells me right off that person is out of touch. Today, many quality professional jobs aren’t even announced in the newspapers, it just isn’t like it once was…

    There isn’t a newspaper in the nation that wouldn’t like to go back to those days and many are trying to keep up by changing formats and including Internet coverage, but for many it has been too little, too late.

    Hopefully, we’ll have the Statesman around for a long time yet, but it’ll need to continue to make changes to survive. Meanwhile, don’t rely on them or any other newspaper to be the only source for important public announcements. It doesn’t work like it used to.

  7. Ok….let me see here. The Guardian takes the city to the Supreme Court to get them to follow the letter of the law and you guys can’t say enough good things. The fire district follows the letter of the law, and you jump all over them.

  8. I talked to one person who was mad when we talked about this. He later admitted when we talked that he had been handed a brochure at his house by a fire man, but threw it away without reading it so “probably missed seeing where to vote” (even though he had a chance to find out when he was contacted). Instead, he felt they should have called him personally to remind him and give directions! Is that what the 90 percent who didn’t vote in the primary election felt also? I agree that having signs put up at the voting locations in the District would have been helpful, but people would still have had to go there to see them.

  9. Jon —

    Yep, that is the way it works.

    In this case, the citizens of Eagle may or may not be screwed (depending on your viewpoint of what happened); their city did follow the law.

    However, if people feel laws are being abused and used against them – they WILL remember.

    As for Boise, they were not even pretending to follow the law, they are in the habit doing whatever they want and thought the court system would simply support them. They were wrong.

    The sad part is that Boise is over running with legal minds with an attitude problem and Eagle is actually going by the book, be it for whatever the reason.


  10. The intention was obviously to keep the election well below the radar. Only “friends of Friend” were invited to vote. I read the Statesman cover to cover, and never saw any notice. No posters, flyers or any form of notice was present at the regular polling places. And firemen visiting their friends with flyers doesn’t make it. Shame on Chief Dan Friend, and Commissars Steve Guerber, Gary Stillwell and Bill Stone.

  11. I’m a resident of Eagle and know very well that Fire elections are held in a separate location. I’ve been ‘burned’ in previous elections.

    Since I have no party affiliation, I didn’t think I needed to vote earlier this week. I had listened carefully to make sure there weren’t any ballot initiatives (there rarely are) so I felt confident that I could skip going to the polls. Imagine my extreme surprise when I learned that a new firehouse was approved!

    What the entire state of Idaho needs is ballot summaries mailed to registered voters prior to each election. Even those of us who prepare our votes could use a little help in finding out what we’re supposed to vote ON.

    Lastly, would absentee voters been notified of the Eagle Firehouse vote when they went to the county registrar’s office to vote? Or would they have had to go to the firehouse to submit an absentee ballot as well? If nothing else, the registrar’s office should know of every legal poll, polling place and election out there. If so, I guess I’m going to have to start calling there every few months to see if there is anything I need to vote on.

  12. Yep, OK, so what the Eagle Fire Department did was legal.
    So what?
    There are a lot of things you can do that are legal that still aren’t nice.
    From simple things like letting a door slam into the face of the person behind you, standing there laughing while a woman with two children and three bags of groceries in her arms struggles to open a heavy door, sneezing directly toward someone’s face to bigger things such as allowing (or doing) development of housing projects in flood planes, hitting a pedestrian crossing where there isn’t a crosswalk, or failing to do everything you can to let your constituents know about an upcoming election, or … well, take your choice from among things our gov, prez, lawmakers etc. do …
    Well, you get the idea.
    Just cuz it’s maybe legal doesn’t necessarily make it right.
    As someone once said, “There are a lot of good ways to be bad and a lot of bad ways to be good.”
    Likeways, there are bad ways to be good (legal), and there may be good ways to be bad (Say, such as breaking into someone’s locked home while they’re away, to extinguish a fire, just for one).
    I wonder about the person who threw away the brochure — did the fireman just hand it to him and say, “Here’s a brochure.” Or did he hand it to him and say, “This will tell you about the bond election you might want to vote in” or somesuch?
    Could make a major difference in readership, I suspect.


  13. Agent Whynotski
    May 28, 2006, 10:13 am

    I am personally frustrated with the attitude of entitlement from so many individuals who feel everything has to be hand-delivered to them with a blowhorn announcement, neon instruction sign, and an attendant to oversee if they voted correctly.

  14. Whynotski –
    Obviously you approve of misleading or limiting voters knowledge.

    I hope no one takes down any of the signs where you ski, you might have problems figuring out you’re options … as the voters did.

  15. The guardian is raising one of the most important issues facing area voters right now.. and that is the subtle denial of Citizens voting rights by omission or trickery on the part of too many of the Treasure Valleys local politicians.

  16. Jon Q Publique
    Jun 1, 2006, 11:49 pm

    Seems the Eagle Fire District borrowed a page from the same playbook that Meridian Schools and Boise Schools use for their bond elections. Do something questionable, but be sure to keep it (barely) legal. As the Statesman advocated in an editorial today (6/1/06), it’s time to change the law.

    Guardian readers should consider contacting their legislators before the November election, and again afterward, and ask that they introduce legislation to change the law so that Fire District election polling places are the same as the primary and general election polling places. This is a statewide issue. It’s not limited to Eagle.

    Phone calls and emails to follow up on your original request should help keep the issue high on your legislator’s priority list. Friends and family can pitch in also. The more the merrier. Send your legislator, family, and friends a copy of this Guardian article to bolster your case.

    Also, don’t forget to ask your legislator to allow, maybe even require, cooperative election cost sharing agreements between the various election groups (county, fire districts, etc.) to help keep the cost to us taxpayers down.

    As to legal notices, publishing in the local general circulation newspaper is fine, but maybe it’s time to change the law on this also. Maybe readers can suggest to their legislators that the legal notice also be required to be posted on the agency website – if the agency has one, of course.

    And Eagle Fire District residents, you might want to elect a new group of Fire Commissioners when the opportunity presents itself.

    Nothing like turning the heat up right?


  17. I saw on the local news that some people in Eagle are calling for a new election but Steve Guerber seemed terribly offended by the idea. I am not in favor of a new election but his attitude was very offensive. Guess I won’t be voting for him when he runs again. He has been in office way too long.

  18. Perhaps Mr. Gerber should have been enthusiastic in his TV appearance? Or did he have have a right to be somewhat offended at the request of a small group of people that aren’t happy with the effort made to inform them of an election that the three Commissioners now deny the voting rights of the 300 people who actually voted, thus violating both the Idaho and the U.S. Constitutions? How many people should have voted to make the legal process that the District followed “really” legal? 500 people? 1,000 people? How much visibility is enough? Seems like this isn’t as simple as some would have us all believe. Should the District actually declare this vote null and void and start over again as demanded? Is this something that we should expect everytime a group of people are unhappy with the outcome? Think about it. I agree that this needs to be solved by changing the rules if they are inadequate, but not by changing the outcome after the fact beause the existing guidelines didn’t work.

  19. No, I don’t think Guerber needed to be enthusiastic about a new election. What he could have done was to take a thoughtful position such as acknowledging that when only 300 people vote perhaps the proper amount of publicity was lacking or that perhaps a little more money should be spent to put the vote at each polling place. His words smacked of arrogance to me. That’s just a personal opinion.

  20. The Eagle Volunteer FD (funny that they are dependant on full-time, paid staff, but still called a “volunteer” FD) continues to exercise good judgement (not!). Now they are in hot water over their “nut feed” ads. What is going on over there? Being in the media in a negative light twice in a few weeks is not such a good plan to gain & maintain the respect and loyality of the community.

  21. Back to the top of the page…Stephen: just to clear this up, the Eagle Fire District contains no parts of Boise or Garden City. Anything within the limits of those two cities falls under the protection of either the Boise Fire Department or North Ada County fire district respectively.

  22. Seriously huge amount of whining on this page.

    “Stealth” election? Seriously? 300 people voted, information was handed out door to door, public notices were posted, television appearances were made…that’s your definition of stealth?

    “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    If they followed the letter of the law and that’s not “good” enough for you…make the necessary adjustments to the law, don’t bitch and moan about the results.

    EDITOR NOTE–Doubt if it ever happens again, thanks in part to the “whining.” It was confusing and simply wrong to have a single precinct for one issue and 7 precints for the other issues on the same election day. Do YOU think 2,700 people who took the time to vote that day made conscious decision to NOT VOTE on the fire station?

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