Florida With Rain - More funny business in the Washington governor's race. Will there be a new election this year?
Washington state has supplanted Florida as the leading example of the need for election reform. The Evergreen State's voting system is so sloppy that you can't tell where incompetence ends and actual fraud might begin. Three Washington counties just discovered 110 uncounted absentee ballots--including 94 from Seattle's King County--in a governor's race that occurred more than five months ago and was decided by only 129 votes. Officials in Seattle's King County admit they may find yet more ballots before a court hearing next month on whether a new election should be called. Last Friday, they reported finding a 111th ballot.
The infamous 2004 governor's race was finally decided seven weeks after the election, after King County officials found new unsecured ballots on nine separate occasions during two statewide recounts. After the new ballots were counted, Democrat Christine Gregoire won a 129-vote victory out of some three million ballots cast. Even as she was sworn in last January, King County election supervisor Dean Logan admitted it had been "a messy process."
He wasn't kidding. During the two recounts, Mr. Logan's office discovered 566 "erroneously rejected" absentee ballots, plus another 150 uncounted ones that turned up in a warehouse. Evidence surfaced that dead people had "exercised their right to vote"; documentation was presented that 900 felons in King County alone had illegally voted and that military ballots were sent out too late to be counted. A total of 700 provisional ballots had been fed into voting machines before officials had determined their validity. In the four previous November elections, King County workers had never mishandled more than nine provisional ballots in a single election.
Slade Gorton, a Republican former state attorney general and U.S. senator, has joined with six Republican members of the King County Council in calling for a Justice Department investigation of the county's handling of ballots. Records indicate that some election officials in King County knew that the absentee ballot report they filed in November was inaccurate because there was evidence at least 86 ballots had been misplaced. Ignoring the requirement that they count the number of ballots received, instead they simply added together the number counted and rejected.
"That's appalling," says Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican who has frequently drawn praise from Democrats for being evenhanded. "You just don't do those things." Even the office of Democratic County Executive Ron Sims admits that "an outside review is probably a good idea" if for no other reason than to address Republican suspicions about the 94 new King County ballots. GOP lawyers point out that two-thirds of the new votes were cast in King County precincts that Republican Dino Rossi won. Ms. Gregoire won seven in 10 King County precincts.
All of this means that the May 23 date set for a trial on a GOP lawsuit seeking to declare the election invalid and to hold a new one this November takes on added significance. Mr. Gorton points out that "a court [can] void any election where the number of illegal or mistaken votes exceeds the margin of victory." In the case of last year's race for governor the number of uncounted ballots unearthed just this April is fast approaching Ms. Gregoire's margin of victory.
You'd think the Democratic Legislature would be appalled at the rampant mistakes and move to fix them. Indeed, separate election reform packages passed by both the House and Senate contain such good ideas as changing the appearance of provisional ballots so they aren't as easily mixed in with regular ballots. But both chambers also want to expand the state's already generous use of mail-in ballots, the system that directly led to so many mishaps last November. The state House passed a bill that would mandate that every election be conducted with only mail-in ballots, as Oregon does now.
What's more, the state's current widespread use of mail-in ballots provided an excuse for Kathy Haigh, chairman of the House committee overseeing election laws, to strip the election reform bill of a requirement that voters show photo ID at the polls. "Sixty-eight percent of the people are voting by mail," she explained. "When do they have to show ID? They don't, they have to sign." Precisely, which is a reason that expanding mail-in elections would only increase the potential for fraud.
It's no wonder that election reformers have developed a kind of gallows humor over how Washington, once renowned for its clean government, now finds its election system compared to those in Louisiana or Philadelphia.
Stefan Sharkansky, a computer engineer who runs SoundPolitics.com, a comprehensive blog on the election debacle, uncovered the errors in King County's absentee voter report through a state Public Disclosure Act request. He has filed additional requests for the audit trail created by King County election officials to handle all the ballots. He was told he would have the records delivered by March 31, but that date has slipped to April 15. Mr. Sharkansky reports that date may now move again because "county officials are scrambling to explain their latest mistakes and say they may not have time to answer my request." Let's hope they do before next month's trial.
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