Returning a ballot in the 2018 midterm election
Returning a ballot in the 2018 midterm election

A law­suit filed last week in King Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court is chal­leng­ing the “sig­na­ture match­ing” process used by elec­tion offi­cials across the Ever­green State that results in tens of thou­sands of Wash­ing­ton vot­ers hav­ing their bal­lots reject­ed and being dis­en­fran­chised every elec­tion cycle.

The suit asks that the “faux sci­ence” of vot­er ver­i­fi­ca­tion be thrown out because it vio­lates the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion. If plain­tiffs get the relief they are request­ing, elec­tion offi­cials would no be longer use sig­na­tures on bal­lot envelopes, except to sim­ply con­firm that the return enve­lope was signed.

A total of 24,000 bal­lots were dis­qual­i­fied in 2020, and 27,000 and ris­ing so far in 2022. In the last three elec­tion cycles, argues the suit, sig­na­ture checks have inval­i­dat­ed more than 113,000 bal­lots from Wash­ing­ton voters.

“The impact is hard­ly neu­tral,” in the words of Kevin Hamil­ton, vet­er­an elec­tion law expert with the Perkins Coie law firm, who filed the suit. The plain­tiffs are a trio of dis­en­fran­chised vot­ers along with the Vet Voice Foun­da­tion, El Cen­tro de la Raza and Wash­ing­ton Bus, which seeks to ener­gize younger voters.

“Active mil­i­tary, Lati­no, Black and Asian Amer­i­can vot­ers saw their bal­lots reject­ed at twice the rate of white vot­ers over forty,” added Hamil­ton. “Vot­ers aged 18 to 21 had their bal­lots reject­ed at ten times the rate of white vot­ers over forty. Asian-Amer­i­can vot­ers aged 18 to 21 had their bal­lots reject­ed at twelve times the rate of white vot­ers over forty. Black and His­pan­ic vot­ers aged 18 to 21 had their bal­lots reject­ed at six­teen times the rate of white overs over forty. This is absurd and uncon­sti­tu­tion­al under Washington’s State Constitution.”

Elec­tion work­ers cas­es are charged with scan­ning mil­lions of bal­lot envelopes under Washington’s vote-by-mail sys­tem. They are tasked with scru­ti­niz­ing whether sig­na­tures match sig­na­tures that vot­ers have on file.

The ver­i­fi­ca­tion require­ment has been elec­tion offi­cials’ chief defense against alle­ga­tions that the sys­tem is open to vot­er fraud.

“Few if any” cas­es of fraud have been uncov­ered due to the sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion process, accord­ing to the suit, which names as defen­dants Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs and King Coun­ty Elec­tions Direc­tor Julie Wise.

“There­fore,” says the suit, “Washington’s Sig­na­ture Match­ing Pro­ce­dure has dis­en­fran­chised tens of thou­sands of law­ful vot­ers to no dis­cernible benefit.”

As to the dis­en­fran­chised: “These vot­ers did every­thing required of them under Wash­ing­ton law: They filled out their bal­lots, sealed the envelopes, signed them and returned them on time. Still, their votes were not counted.”

The Perkins Coie firm has defend­ed vot­er rights, and rep­re­sent­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic groups, in lit­i­ga­tion from coast to coast. It recent­ly per­suad­ed courts in Mon­tana to over­turn efforts by Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors to make it more dif­fi­cult for Native Amer­i­cans and young peo­ple to vote. The law­mak­ers had passed a trio of mea­sures that out­lawed same-day vot­er reg­is­tra­tion, said stu­dent ID alone was not enough to reg­is­ter, and out­lawed paid third-par­ty bal­lot collection.

Hamil­ton worked in Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell’s clos­est-in-the-nation defeat of Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Slade Gor­ton in 2000, defend­ed Chris­tine Gregoire’s 2004 129-vote win for Gov­er­nor in Chelan Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court, and worked the 2008 lit­i­ga­tion and court plead­ings that con­firmed elec­tion of Min­neso­ta’s for­mer U.S. Sen­a­tor Al Franken. He rep­re­sent­ed the ACLU in land­mark lit­i­ga­tion in which a fed­er­al judge end­ed the at-large elec­tions of Yaki­ma City Coun­cil mem­bers, a process under which no Lati­no or Lati­na had ever won a city coun­cil seat.

Hamil­ton was in Geor­gia after the 2020 elec­tion, defend­ing Joe Biden’s nar­row win in the Peachtree State against mal­adroit legal chal­lenges brought by Trump allies. Perkins Coie is cur­rent­ly rep­re­sent­ing two nar­row win­ners in Ari­zona, Gov­er­nor-elect Katie Hobbs and Attor­ney Gen­er­al-elect Kris Mayes. Mayes’ oppo­nent, Abra­ham Hamadeh, has asked courts to void the election.

The sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion suit details the almost Kafkaesque expe­ri­ence of a young vot­er named Kaeleene Escalante Mar­tinez, who had her bal­lot dis­al­lowed in three suc­ces­sive elec­tion cycles.

After her bal­lot was reject­ed in the 2020 elec­tion, Mar­tinez com­plet­ed the form to “cure” the sig­na­ture issue, only to see her vote not count. Mar­tinez saw her bal­lots reject­ed twice more in this year’s pri­ma­ry and gen­er­al elections.

“In short, she did every­thing that was required of her to cast her bal­lot and exer­cise her fun­da­men­tal right to vote,” says the suit, lat­er adding: “Ms Escalante Mar­tinez recent­ly learned that, remark­ably, for a third time in as many elec­tions, elec­tion offi­cials mis­tak­en­ly reject­ed her sig­na­ture on her ballot.”

Bethan Cantrell, a sec­ond plain­tiff, has in words of the suit, a “chron­ic con­di­tion that makes writ­ing and sign­ing her name extreme­ly uncomfortable.”

A “com­pli­cat­ed sig­na­ture” by a third plain­tiff, Daisha Britt, has result­ed in repeat rejections.

Until and unless the ver­i­fi­ca­tion require­ment is thrown out, vot­ers must act to “cure” the rejec­tion of their signatures.

Coun­ty elec­tion offices noti­fy vot­ers whose bal­lots are chal­lenged and have until just before cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to com­plete a form and “cure” the chal­lenge. (For this elec­tion, that was 4:30 PM Pacif­ic Time today, as cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is tomorrow.)

The law­suit not­ed that elec­tion offi­cials have oth­er means to iden­ti­fy improp­er bal­lots, includ­ing check­ing Social Secu­ri­ty records, and checks with the state Depart­ment of Health and Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions for dead or inel­i­gi­ble voters.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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One reply on “Lawsuit contends Washington’s signature-based ballot verification is unconstitutional”

  1. We nev­er hear about any of this on the news either, the local news here makes me sick. Chan­nel 13 morn­ing news turns my stom­ach, they spend more time report­ing about McDon­ald’s and Star­bucks’ new menu items than they do report­ing what they call news. Turned them all off years ago.

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