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Thursday, March 17, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

GOP's felon list may be way off

Seattle Times chief political reporter

The list of alleged felon voters compiled in Dino Rossi's legal challenge to the governor's election mistakenly includes people tried as juveniles who never lost their right to vote.

A spokeswoman for Rossi acknowledged last night that perhaps hundreds of the 1,135 people on the list are there improperly because of juvenile cases.

Mary Lane said Rossi attorneys and researchers will review the names and remove anyone found to be on the list only because of a juvenile offense.

"It could very well be that people we have on our list didn't have their voting rights taken away," Lane said of the juvenile cases.

A partial check by The Seattle Times showed that 165 alleged felon voters in King County had only juvenile cases. The Times was able to check 462 names using a Washington State Patrol database.

An attorney for the Democratic Party said more than 200 juvenile cases were found among the King County names.

The list contains names from 13 counties, though the vast majority are from King.

"They should scrub their list for other errors," said attorney Jenny Durkan, a lawyer for the Democrats. "This is a huge error."

Durkan said Republican attorneys should apologize to the people erroneously listed as voting illegally and amend the list "so these people's names never have to go into an official court file."

Attorneys for Rossi compiled the list of alleged illegal voters as part of his lawsuit asking a Chelan County Superior Court judge to throw out the November election that put Democrat Christine Gregoire in the governor's mansion.

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Washington law and the state constitution prohibit felons (convicted in adult court) from voting unless they have had their rights restored. That requires meeting all court-imposed obligations including community service and the payment of restitution and fines.

County election officials across the state often fail to remove felons' names from voter-registration rolls. In some instances, felons reregister. County election officials say they don't have the resources to run a criminal background check on every new voter.

Last month Rossi's attorneys released a list of alleged illegal voters in response to a subpoena from Democrats. That list was mostly made up of felons but also included people alleged to have voted twice and votes cast under the names of dead people.

Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even said yesterday that people tried as juveniles should not be on the list. People found guilty in the juvenile system are not technically convicted of a crime under state law. Rather, that is a civil procedure and would not disqualify someone from voting once they turned 18, he said.

"My view has always been that since those are not criminal proceedings, a juvenile adjudication does not have the effect of disenfranchising because it is not a criminal conviction," said Even, who represents the Secretary of State's Office in the Rossi case.

The state's juvenile-justice law says: "An order of court adjudging a child delinquent or dependent under the provisions of this chapter shall in no case be deemed a conviction of crime."

That was backed up in a 1987 state Supreme Court ruling. In rejecting a claim that juveniles should get jury trials, the court said:

"We have interpreted this provision to mean that a juvenile cannot be convicted of a felony."

Juveniles who were tried and convicted as adults, however, would be disqualified from voting.

Rossi was initially declared the winner of the November election, the closest governor's race in state history. He won the initial count by 261 votes and a machine recount by 42 votes. But after a hand recount, Gregoire was declared the winner by 129 votes.

In Rossi's suit challenging the election, he claims that errors and illegal votes made it impossible to know who is the true winner and that Gregoire should be removed from office.

Among the errors he cites are problems reconciling vote totals and provisional ballots that were improperly counted before being verified. (Earlier this week, King County Elections Director Dean Logan said as many as 660 provisional ballots were counted improperly, up from previous estimates of 348.)

Regarding the voters with juvenile offenses, Lane said she was not sure how those people ended up on the felon list. Those offenses are included in the Washington State Patrol criminal database Rossi used to find felons who voted. But they are coded to denote a juvenile case.

Lane said Rossi's staff continues to collect evidence and will submit the names of additional felon voters.

Times researcher Justin Mayo contributed to this report.

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or dpostman@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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