Thank media watchdogs for spurring election reform
Even as the Legislature entered the second week of the 2005 session, some of the great white tents that held the 2005 Inaugural Ball still...
Special to The Times
Even as the Legislature entered the second week of the 2005 session, some of the great white tents that held the 2005 Inaugural Ball still stood outside the Capitol, a reminder of the turmoil that remains. Despite the fact the inauguration is over, legislators move forward with the unsettled knowledge that we might not truly know who our governor really is for more than a month.
Much has been said about the role of talk radio and the "blogosphere" in whipping up public opinion and bringing to light the errors in the 2004 election. However, members of our local mainstream media deserve a great deal of credit for uncovering many of the flaws the new media — talk radio and blogs — have been discussing.
On Nov. 16, our local newspapers reported on King County Superior Court Judge Dean Lum's decision to release the names of 929 provisional-ballot voters whose ballots were not counted because they either had mismatched signatures or had no signatures at all. The story went on to reveal how Democratic operatives delivered more than 400 affidavits from voters for Christine Gregoire whose ballots had been rejected due to signature problems.
Thanks to this story, Senate Republicans plan to introduce a new law protecting voter privacy and prohibiting third parties from contacting voters in this manner.
On Dec. 19, one of our local newspapers featured a story on its survey of counties, revealing that procedures for evaluating signatures were highly subjective and varied widely from county to county. According to the story, "More than 3,400 ballots in Washington were rejected in the November election because the signatures didn't match those on file with elections officials. And counties excluded them at wildly different rates." ("Ballot checks vary widely across state," Seattle Times, page one.)
Thanks to this story, another senator is planning to introduce a bill requiring a uniform elections handbook to make sure every vote in every county is handled in a similar manner. Others are sponsoring a bill to codify the rules on provisional ballots so they are all handled the same statewide.
On Jan. 5, our local newspapers uncovered the fact that roughly 350 provisional ballots were fed directly into voting machines with no verification, rather than being set aside in special envelopes for review.
Based on that story, another senator is introducing two more bills: one requiring provisional ballots to be printed on different colored paper than other ballots and another putting the rules for provisional ballots into law so they can be standardized across all counties.
On Jan. 11, our local newspapers reported the King County elections superintendent admitted the number of votes unaccounted for was roughly 1,800 in King County and added it was impossible to come up with a precise number because workers were constantly modifying the files.
Based on this admission, senators are working on a bill to require counties to reconcile the number of ballots counted against the number of voters, within a set margin of error.
Every day, it seems new problems are revealed. That's why my colleagues and I stood before the Legislature and moved to delay certification of the 2004 gubernatorial election until the courts could review the facts. Across our state, voters are saying they don't trust the outcome of this election and they want answers.
Just as it is the role of responsible media — including talk radio, newspapers and, now, blogs — to act as watchdogs over government proceedings, it is the role of the Legislature to respond to the people it represents.
The Legislature failed to represent the people when it voted to certify this election despite the lingering doubts of legitimacy. We can redeem ourselves somewhat by passing meaningful election reform to prevent these questions of legitimacy in the future.
It is now the role of the Chelan County Superior Court to review the facts before it and try to return some credibility to the 2004 election. No matter what the outcome, voters must be confident our system worked as it was designed to protect their right to vote and to preserve the integrity of our elections.
Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, is Senate minority leader.
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