GOP admits it erred in challenging some voters' registration
Republicans admitted Friday they made numerous mistakes in challenging the registrations of 1,944 King County voters last week. The party dropped its...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Republicans admitted Friday they made numerous mistakes in challenging the registrations of 1,944 King County voters last week.
The party dropped its challenges of 140 voters, and state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said more probably were challenged erroneously.
King County elections officials said they were flooded with hundreds of calls Thursday and Friday from confused and angry voters who had received notices from the county that their registrations had been challenged because of Republicans' questions about their address. Many said the challenges were unjustified, elections director Dean Logan said.
He urged them to vote in Tuesday's election anyway, and said their votes will be counted if their registrations turn out to be legal.
Vance apologized to voters whose registrations were challenged mistakenly but said Republicans were motivated by a desire to avoid a repeat of problems that plagued the county elections office last year.
"We are not going to sit by again and watch [County Executive] Ron Sims and Dean Logan count illegal votes again," Vance said. "Over 90 percent of what we've done is accurate. ... The focus should not be on our errors, but on King County's errors."
He wouldn't discuss individual voters and why the GOP had challenged their registrations, nor why the party had dropped 140 of the challenges.
Elections office open today
The elections office will be open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. so voters can update their addresses. The office is in the King County Administration Building, 500 Fourth Ave., Seattle. The office also has established a hotline — 206-205-5686 — to answer voters' questions.
It was unclear yesterday how many of the other challenges were valid.
Democrats said the GOP's challenges were political — Sims is in a tight re-election battle with Republican challenger David Irons, and elections problems have been a major issue. "This shows how desperate the Republicans are and what lengths they will go to in order to win," state Democratic Chairman Paul Berendt said in a statement.
An arm of the King County Republican Party called the Voter Registration Integrity Project filed the challenges Oct. 26, charging that all 1,944 voters were illegally registered at mailboxes or storage units. According to state law, voters must declare their residential addresses when registering.
Logan sent letters to the voters dated Tuesday, informing them of the challenges and telling them that unless they transferred their registrations to their residences or re-registered by today, their votes in Tuesday's election would be treated as "challenged ballots."
The county Canvassing Board would decide whether to count them at hearings later this month, Logan wrote.
In each letter, Logan also included a copy of the challenge itself, in which King County GOP Vice Chairwoman Lori Sotelo attests "under penalty of perjury" that she has "personal knowledge" that, contrary to state law, the voter doesn't reside at the address at which he or she is registered.
County elections spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said some voters who received the letters and called were registered to vote at the addresses of businesses where they rented private mail boxes; she said she didn't know how many.
Logan said many calls were from irate voters who said they were registered at their residences.
Bob Thoma said he and his partner, Jim Blodgett, both received letters. "I am upset beyond words," he said. "She [Sotelo] didn't take the time to do her homework."
Thoma said he and Blodgett live in an apartment at the Capitol Hill storage-unit complex he manages. He said it has been his voting address for 11 years. He said he may have to take a day off work to attend the hearing to defend his vote.
Barbara Taylor, who said she lives and is registered to vote at the storage-unit complex she manages in Wallingford, said she, her husband and her daughter all received letters informing them their registrations had been challenged. She said she intends to vote but wondered if the challenges would dissuade other voters.
"How many people are just going to say, 'I just won't vote' ?" Taylor said.
Taylor said she knew of at least two other live-in managers at storage-unit complexes whose registrations had been challenged.
Jeff Weber, another voter whose registration was challenged, said he lives and is registered at his home in West Seattle, and is mystified about how he ended up on the Republicans' list.
"I think it's outrageous," he said. "It's a bungalow in West Seattle. ... It's a single-family house on a 5,000-square-foot lot. If they had done any investigating at all, they would have known."
Annette Fallin of Belltown said she was notified her registration had been challenged the same day she mailed in her absentee ballot.
"I'm very irate over it," she said. "I get this piece of mail telling me they're not even counting it like a normal ballot."
The challenge to Fallin's registration was one of the 140 the GOP dropped Friday. More than 50 of the 140 were registered at her apartment building, the Watermarke on Cedar Street.
The challenges to Thoma's, Taylor's, Blodgett's and Weber's registrations were not rescinded.
Sotelo was not available for comment. Vance, returning calls on her behalf, said Republicans developed their list by computer, running the street addresses of private mailbox businesses and storage-unit complexes against the addresses of registered voters. He said volunteers took pictures of each of the suspect buildings, but the party didn't attempt to contact voters because it lacked manpower.
"I'm sure there's a small number of errors," Vance said. "To those people, we apologize. ... We've never done this before.
"It's their [the elections office's] incompetence that has led us to this point, that we have to go out and start challenging people's registrations."
Fallin and several other voters whose registrations were challenged questioned whether Republicans were singling out Democratic precincts. Ross Marzolf, King County GOP executive director, said the party hadn't done that.
A Seattle Times analysis shows 93 percent of the challenged voters are registered in precincts that voted for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry last year. But King County voted for Kerry overwhelmingly; he took 88 percent of its precincts.
In a letter to Logan on Friday, Metropolitan King County Councilman Larry Phillips, D-Seattle, asked for an estimate of the costs the elections office will incur in processing the registration challenges.
Logan said the elections office in the King County Administration Building in Seattle will be open today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. so voters can update their addresses. It also has established a hotline — 206-205-5686 — to answer voters' questions.
Voters whose registration has been challenged don't need to be present at the Canvassing Board's hearings on whether to count their vote, spokeswoman Egan said; instead, they can submit affidavits before the hearings. The burden of proof at the hearings will be on the challenger, not the voter, she added.
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