Citing filing error, secretary of state leaves Rognstad off May primary ballot

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad made a lot of headlines in November when he announced his candidacy for Idaho governor. Running as a Democrat in Republican-dominated Idaho, he faced an uphill battle from the outset. Now it looks like that battle may be over before it could even begin, after the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office declined to put Rognstad on the May 17 primary ballot because of a candidacy filing error. 

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad.

While he officially declared his intention to run as a Democrat on the March 11 filing deadline, Rognstad’s party affiliation turned out to be Republican, which ran afoul of state election rules that officials say require that a candidate’s declared party match their party affiliation. 

Rognstad did change his affiliation to “Democrat” on March 11, but only after he learned of the discrepancy later in the evening — and, by that time, the candidate declaration window had closed at 5 p.m., meaning his reaffiliation affected his status as a voter, not a candidate.

Rognstad’s campaign was quick to push back against the secretary of state’s decision, issuing a statement on March 14: 

“Today a Republican Secretary of State worked with a Republican Attorney general to illegally prevent a Democrat candidate from running for Governor, based on a technicality that has no basis in Idaho law. When I filed my candidacy on Friday [March 11], I declared as a Democrat on the filing form, which is exactly what the state law requires. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for Idaho Republicans to win almost every election, now they’re wanting to prevent elections from happening in the first place. I’m reviewing my options on how to fight this gross injustice that deprives Idaho voters of a choice on the primary ballot.”

Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale, who serves as elections chief for the county, told the Reader that if Rognstad had declared earlier during the candidacy filing period — which began Feb. 28 — the inconsistency would have been caught and corrected in time to make the March 11 deadline. As it was, there was simply no time to do so.

“Afterwards is too late, that’s the problem,” Rosedale said. “It’s crystal clear: You have to be affiliated with the party you’re running for. There’s no gray area there.” 

That’s despite an argument made by Rognstad’s campaign manager, Ethan Schaffer, who in a letter March 13 to the secretary of state wrote that Idaho Code stipulates a candidate must be affiliated with “a political party,” not necessarily the same political party for which they’ve declared they will run, and not necessarily “at the exact moment the candidate’s declaration of candidacy is filed.”

Schaffer added: “And even if there was some legal support for that requirement, it would elevate form over substance (to put it mildly) to exclude Mayor Rognstad.”

“That’s a semantics argument,” Idaho Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck told the Idaho Capital Sun.

Also in the letter, Rognstad’s campaign insisted that he had changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat at the beginning of October, but “the registration records were not updated to reflect that change.”

According to Houk, quoted by the Idaho Capital Sun, Rognstad “could not give us a consistent answer on how that change was made. … There was no record of it.”

Asked how someone’s change of party affiliation might not be recorded, Rosedale told the Reader that, “I don’t think it’s possible. It’s a regular business process — we do every one. … Something like that would not be missed.”

Rosedale said the only affiliation on file with the clerk’s office indicates Rognstad has been a Republican since 2020.

“There’s just nothing we can do about that,” he said. “He was gearing up for this and it was just a little paperwork thing he didn’t do. I feel bad for him.”

Rognstad has raised more than $113,000 for his campaign so far, including from some of the state’s most prominent Democrats. A call to the Idaho Democratic Party on March 15 went unanswered.

To remain in the race, Rognstad’s only options are to take the issue to court or file his intention to run as a write-in candidate, the deadline for which is 5 p.m. on Friday, March 25.

Reached for comment by the Reader, Schaffer said the campaign had “not yet” determined how it would proceed.

According to Rosedale, the snafu underscores the importance of handling election-related paperwork as early as possible — whether for candidates or voters.

“Don’t wait until the last minute on anything — and that includes requesting your absentee ballot or returning your absentee ballot,” he said. “Give yourself enough time for a mistake to happen and you can recover.”

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