Four counties admit voting mix-ups Signatures on scores of provisional ballots weren't matched up
Friday, April 1, 2005
Hundreds of votes were improperly counted in the November election when poll workers in four Eastern Washington counties tallied provisional ballots without first matching signatures on the ballot envelopes with those on file, officials have acknowledged.
The provisional ballots in those counties were checked to make sure names and addresses matched with registered voters, but the signatures were not verified as required by state regulation.
It's unclear what effect this could have on the legal challenge to Democrat Gov. Christine Gregoire's election, still pending in a Chelan County court, although both sides in the dispute say it helps their case.
Democrats say if unverified provisional ballots in King County are to be tossed out, so should those in Eastern Washington. That would be important if the court rules, as the GOP has argued, that improper votes should be subtracted from the tallies of Gregoire and her Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, in proportion to their percentages of overall vote totals. The four Eastern Washington counties all favored Rossi.
Republicans, who would like the proportional analysis applied in Gregoire's stronghold of King County, say the problems with provisional ballots in Eastern Washington can't be compared to those in King County. In any event, they say, the missteps underscore Rossi's contention that the entire election was a mess and a new one should be held.
Gregoire beat Rossi by 129 votes in a hand recount of more than 2.8 million ballots.
Republicans have pointed to illegal voting by felons and other irregularities in the election. Much of the Republican fire has been directed at King County, where Gregoire rolled up a 150,000-vote plurality.
Provisional ballots are issued by poll workers when a voter shows up on Election Day but his or her name cannot be found on the list of registered voters for that polling place. The voter signs for the ballot, fills it out and places it in an unmarked security envelope, which then goes inside a provisional ballot envelope. The outer envelope includes space for the voter to enter his or her name, address, date of birth and signature.
After the polls close, elections workers compare the information on the outer envelope to their roster of registered voters. If they get a match, the ballot is counted.
The ballot itself is not specially marked or coded as a provisional ballot, and once counted, it is generally not possible to distinguish it from mail-in absentee ballots and others tabulated after the polls close. Provisional ballot outer envelopes from the November election are to be kept on file until September 2006.
According to an official regulation issued by Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed in August, "A provisional ballot cannot be counted unless the voter's name, signature and the date of birth, if available, matches a voter registration record."
But in at least four counties, workers did not compare the signatures on provisional ballots to their records, county auditors said.
"We did not check their signatures against our signatures in-house," said Auditor Nancy McBroom in Adams County.
"With the new law, it says, I guess, you're supposed to confirm the signatures," McBroom said. "We have always considered, prior to that, that when the person comes in and (they) present themselves to election workers, they're identifying themselves."
Adams County tallied 108 provisional ballots after matching names and other information with registration lists and rejected 36, McBroom said. Rossi defeated Gregoire there, 68 percent to 30 percent.
Other counties that failed to compare signatures as part of their review of provisional ballots included:
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]