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Former clerk pleads guilty for handling of recall petition

SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) A former northern Idaho election official accused of not following the law involving verifying signatures on a recall drive has pleaded guilty to making a false statement as a public official.

The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that Ann Dutson-Sater made the plea Tuesday in 1st District Court and was sentenced to a year of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Dutson-Sater was originally charged with subornation of perjury but pleaded guilty to making a false statement as a public official when she notified the Lake Pend Oreille School District board chairman that enough people signed a recall petition against one of its trustees.

The charge stemmed from the recall effort against who introduced a plan, ultimately unsuccessful, to arm teachers. The recall was called off in January 2014 because of a procedural error.

Authorities said Dutson-Sater allowed a recall backer to attest under penalty of perjury that he witnessed all the signatures for the recall being obtained even though the backer estimated witnessing only about 70 percent.

Some signatures were disallowed, and organizers were mistakenly permitted by Dutson-Sater's staff to collect and submit more.

The recall was never held, but concerns from board Chairman Steve Youngdahl led to an investigation by the Kootenai County Sheriff's Office.

Dutson-Sater told a police detective that the situation was a "comedy of errors which turned into a nightmare."

Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh said there had to be consequences.

"It is still a serious matter" he said.

Dutson-Sater's defense attorney, Bryce Powell, said Dutson-Sater had received limited training after being appointed clerk in 2013.

Senior District Judge John Patrick Luster said he doubted Dutson-Sater knowingly engaged in election fraud. But in issuing the sentence he said that being careful with election rules is fundamental to democracy.

"Hopefully it will reinforce the following of procedures and the letter of the law when it comes to the election process," he said.

Dutson-Sater said the charges have kept her unemployed since she lost her re-election in November.

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Information from: Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee

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