Idaho mayor announces write-in campaign for governor after filing error

Democratic Party says it will remain neutral until after primary

By: - March 21, 2022 2:22 pm

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad (Courtesy of Shelby Rognstad)

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad announced he will stage a campaign as a write-in Democratic candidate for Idaho governor in the May primary, one week after the Idaho Secretary of State’s office determined he would not appear as an official candidate on the May 17 primary ballot.

The campaign had threatened a lawsuit to try to get Rognstad’s name on the ballot, but decided against it.

“We are pursuing the write-in campaign. That’s our sure path to get on the ballot to have the opportunity to be elected in the primary,” Rognstad told the Idaho Capital Sun on Monday. “There’s too many unknowns around a lawsuit.”

Rognstad filed his declaration of candidacy paperwork on the day of the filing period deadline, March 11, but failed to change his voter registration from Republican to Democrat, according to recent reporting by the Idaho Capital Sun. Rognstad said he has a 15-year track record of holding Democratic values in elected office, but in Bonner County, there are often no Democratic choices on the ballot. To have a voice in elected leadership and vote in the closed Republican primary, he said, he had been registered as a Republican.

The campaign contended Rognstad did change his voter affiliation to Democrat with Bonner County in 2021, but Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck told the Capital Sun last week the Secretary of State’s office found no record of that change. 

After discovering his name was not on the unofficial candidate list the night of the deadline, Rognstad changed his affiliation online, but that only affects his status as a voter, according to Houck.

Rognstad’s campaign issued a statement after the decision from the Secretary of State’s office saying it was politically motivated, making an argument that Idaho Code doesn’t specify that it has to be the same party. Houck said that was a semantics argument and the Idaho Attorney General’s office agreed.

The deadline for a Declaration of Intent as a write-in candidate is 5 p.m. Friday. Rognstad said he was disappointed by the decision not to include him on the ballot, but the campaign will focus on a voter outreach strategy across Idaho counties. 

“I regret that I didn’t file much sooner, and I would’ve obviously avoided this catastrophe,” Rognstad told the Capital Sun. “But we are where we are, and you fall off the horse, you get back up and you keep going. … I’m committed to continue fighting for the future of Idaho.”

Democratic candidate Stephen Heidt, of Marsing, filed a candidacy declaration for governor, and will appear on the primary ballot. Avery Roberts, spokesperson for the Idaho Democratic Party, said the party will support the winner of the primary.

“Mr. Heidt and Mayor Rognstad are both running to become the Idaho Democratic candidate for governor. The Idaho Democratic Party will remain neutral in this competitive primary race. We look forward to voters making their choice on May 17,” Roberts said in a statement.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.