If there is such a thing as a cool election nerd, it's Phil McGrane. He is the chief deputy in the office of the Ada County Clerk, a job he's held since 2005. Among his many duties, McGrane oversees the largest election operation in Idaho: more than 1,000 workers at 145 precincts, all tasked with maintaining the integrity of the vote.
McGrane made a little non-election news in September, though, when he disclosed that hackers stole his identity and those of his family, and drained their bank accounts. Prior to another busy Election Day, McGrane sat down to talk about voting—but first answered some questions about being targeted by identity thieves.
Have you recovered?
I wouldn't call it that. It was definitely a sophisticated operation. People had gotten access to our online account, and they withdrew all the money from our savings and checking accounts.
How much time had lapsed before you realized what happened?
Two hours. I was in a meeting when I got an alert, and like many people, I've had a fraudulent charge in the past where you dispute the single charge. I never anticipated the level of sophistication of this operation. They got a hold of our personal identifying information and called into our bank impersonating me. They didn't know our phone password but when the bank asked subsequent questions, they were able to provide my social security number, date of birth, my wife's name and her date of birth. They had all sorts of information. It took us weeks to figure all of it out. What's interesting is that they didn't move all of the money. They would leave a little bit in each account. They moved things around and then went to a series of ATMs in the Chicago area and withdrew it all.
What was the hardest part about this experience?.
If someone had broken into my house and stolen my TV, I'd call the sheriff's office. I've actually reached out to law enforcement on this, and there's really no one who goes after these bad guys. We're still in the process of closing our bank accounts and opening new ones.
Let's talk about something more innocent: politics—in particular, your take on the Boise City Council election: three seats and thirteen candidates.
From our perspective, we're not seeing a high level of interest so far, in terms of activity. Just anecdotally, when I drive around town, I'm not seeing the level of activity I would anticipate this close to an election.
I would agree.I'm not seeing nearly as many yard signs as I've seen in prior city elections.
Yes, I think that's a good indicator. The other one that really stands out is that candidates usually drive absentee voter participation, but right now, we're seeing record low absentee participation. We're not getting the number of requests we would expect; and even for those who are being sent ballots are not returning them at the rate we've seen in the past.
I've heard you describe management of Election Day as being similar to event planning.
We've never really gone in this direction, but when we have been hiring for a new director, we always thought of it like a high-end wedding planner. In weddings, expectations are high. In elections, expectations are extremely high. Everyone demands perfection. The company that helps us distribute all of our supplies—there are five semi-truck loads—travel all over Ada County the day before the election to distribute materials. We vote on Tuesday and then on Wednesday, trucks drive around picking up all the materials.
The day after the wedding, so to speak.
Yes, exactly. It feels and looks a lot like a wedding. Hopefully, we're all celebrating in the end just as well.