State task force gets earful over gubernatorial election
Secretary of State Sam Reed expected an onslaught of complaints about the state's election system last night, and that's what he got at...
Seattle Times staff reporter
VANCOUVER, Wash. — Secretary of State Sam Reed expected an onslaught of complaints about the state's election system last night, and that's what he got at the first of four public hearings being held around the state.
Reed, who oversees Washington's elections system, is co-chair of a state task force charged with finding ways to help prevent a repeat of the chaotic gubernatorial election, which went through two recounts. It ended with Democrat Christine Gregoire beating Republican Dino Rossi by 129 votes.
The election, rife with accusations of mishandled ballots and illegal votes, is being challenged in court by Republicans.
More than 100 people showed up at a Clark College auditorium to vent their frustration to the four-member task force chaired by Reed and former Democratic state Sen. Betti Sheldon. Comments ranged from technical advice to outrage.
"This election has been a farce," Dawn Courtney, of Castle Rock, told the panel. "Because of this botched election, voters have lost confidence in the election system. I don't want this to ever happen again."
Kim Dalton, of Vancouver, complained about people serving in the military who didn't get a chance to vote.
"You need to understand that they are more important than deceased people voting, they are more important than illegal aliens voting," she said. "They are a very vital part of our country, and I really don't believe that what has happened in this election was fair to them."
Hearings on elections
A state task force charged with improving Washington's elections has scheduled the following hearings:
Des Moines: Monday, 6 to 8 p.m., Highline Community College student-union building.
Pasco: Wednesday, 6 to 8 p.m., Columbia Basin College student-union building.
Spokane: Feb. 22, 6 to 8 p.m., Spokane Community College Lair Student Center.
Reed, a Republican, said he got the message. "One very big message is people are losing trust in the system," he told the audience at the end of the hearing. "That is scary to me."
Although the audience said what was on their minds, the hearing was peaceful. People kept their emotions in check.
The task force, created by Gregoire, has three more hearings scheduled in the coming weeks in Des Moines, Pasco and Spokane. It's supposed to deliver recommendations by March 1.
The conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation, in a notice on its Web site, has been urging its members "to pack these meetings."
"We see a lot of cracks in the voting system," Bob Williams, the foundation's president, said before the hearing. "The more we hear, the bigger the cracks are getting."
Reed has proposed several changes, including: holding the primary earlier in the year; requiring absentee ballots to be received by Election Day; and allowing counties to conduct their elections entirely by mail.
Moving the primary from September to the summer would allow more time to get out absentee and overseas military ballots. Requiring ballots to be in by Election Day would provide quicker results. And having everyone vote by mail is expected to simplify the election process.
The task force is handing out two-page questionnaires at the hearings to gauge interest in the proposals.
The measures mirror bills already introduced in the state House and Senate, where Democratic leaders say they're moving ahead on legislation. The task force's recommendations may play a role in what lawmakers decide, depending on how quickly the panel's report comes in.
Williams contends the task force isn't addressing the right issues. Most of the problems that cropped up during the election could have been prevented if the state simply enforced laws already on the books, such as preventing felons from voting, he said.
The foundation also is calling for moves not on the task force's list, such as purging the state's election rolls and requiring voters to re-register with proof of citizenship. That's the only way to purge the system of people voting illegally, Williams contends.
Williams argues that Reed shouldn't play a lead role in the task force, because he considers him partly responsible for problems during the election. "He's a big part of the problem," Williams said.
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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