Prosecutor to review voter fraud accusations - Business owners in Sultan say voting in four city elections when they lived elsewhere was a simple mistake, but a county official isn't sure

By Diana Hefley
The Daily Herald Writer


SULTAN, WA-- A Sultan business owner and his wife could face criminal charges for illegally voting in four elections, including a city council race that was decided by a coin toss.

Rusty and Jana Drivstuen, who own a deli and gas station in Sultan, have been using their business address to vote since November 2001.

The couple said in an affidavit that it was a simple mistake, but Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger said he has "suspicion" to believe that the Drivstuens knowingly registered at the wrong address.

"There was enough of a question in my mind," to forward the findings to the Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office, Terwilliger said.

It will be up to prosecutors to decide if the Drivstuens will be charged with a crime, including voter fraud.

"It's a criminal case now. The prosecutor's office will determine if there's enough evidence to support that or if it was just an honest mistake," Terwilliger said.

The Drivstuens could not be reached for comment Monday.

Cindy Broughton, a former city councilwoman, challenged the Drivstuens' voter registration on May 13 -- just a week before the special election in Sultan to change the form of government. Broughton said she was looking at a voter registration list when she noticed the discrepancy.

"It isn't right. Other people have businesses in Sultan and they don't get to vote in city elections," she said.

In November 2001, Broughton lost a re-election bid to Rob Criswell. After a hand recount, the votes were tied and the race was decided by a flip of a coin. Broughton wonders if the outcome of the election could have been different if the Drivstuens hadn't voted.

"It came down to a coin toss. I lost. I walked away thinking 'better luck next time,'" she said. "But maybe not everyone was playing fair."

The election results cannot be overturned, but Broughton said she wanted to make things right.

This is the first time a county auditor has forwarded a registration challenge to a county prosecutor under the state Elections Integrity Act, which was adopted in 2001, said Bobbie Egan, Secretary of State spokeswoman.

Before the new legislation, a voter could contest the challenge or simply change his address.

Under the new law, a county auditor must forward the case to prosecutors if there is suspicion that the voter knowingly gave wrong information.

"It seems to be an attempt to provide some teeth to the voter challenge law, but it misses a little bit," Terwilliger said.

There are no criteria given for determining if the person knowingly registered at the wrong address, he said.

"Under this new law, I imagine auditors probably have an obligation to forward these on to the prosecutor's office to make the call," he said. "But there's no clear guidance and because of that, we may have some problems."


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