Where Idaho’s ballots get printed ahead of election day
Megan Gipson Pena was waiting for a call. She just hoped it would come in before 5 p.m.
That’s when Caldwell-based Caxton Printers, which prints the paper ballots for 32 counties in Idaho, typically takes the last call on Election Day from counties in need of a last-minute order of ballots.
And with record-setting voter turnout during this midterm election, Gipson Pena — the elections specialist at Caxton — figured that some counties would need extras. Idahoans cast 159,981 early and absentee ballots even before polls opened at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
Caxton could tell how popular the election was before anyone else. Gipson Pena said the company ran several reprints of mail-in and absentee ballots for counties ahead of the general election.
“Obviously the counties in Idaho knew that this was going to be a big race,” she said.
On Tuesday, though, Gipson Pena was at the presses again by noon, running about 100 extra ballots for one county that had underestimated its turnout.
Gipson Pena’s family has been in the business of elections for about six decades. Dave Gipson, her grandfather, likes to say he’s been around for three secretaries of state. It almost makes that seem brief, until you remember that before Secretaries of State Lawerence Denney and Ben Ysursa, Pete Cenarrusa was in office from 1967 to 2003.
“There’s not one county clerk that’s been there as long as I have,” said the 71-year-old.
Caxton has seen every trend in election security and voting systems — “Does punch voting mean anything to you? The hanging chads?” Gipson asks. After the Florida fiasco of the 2000 presidential election, Idaho decided that it was out with the punch voting and in with the optical scans, he said. So Caxton adjusted.
The company didn’t originally list 33 counties within its election clientele. Back when each county could boast its own local newspaper, counties relied on them to print ballots on their presses. But as newspapers folded over the decades and Idaho counties needed a printer, they turned to Caxton, and business ballooned.
This year, Caxton printed 942,000 for 33 counties in the state.
It’s a job that Caxton takes seriously, Gipson Pena said.
Any smudges or stains on ballots mean that an entire pad of 25 to 50 ballots must be thrown out. It’s why the counties have continued to rely on Caxton.
“Everything has to be locked up in a gate,” she said. “We have to cover everything.”
Back on the floor of the printing press, staffers were boxing up some of the stacks of ballots. Soon they’d be taking off from Caxton and finding their way into the voting booth.