Ronna McDaniel, RNC Chair
Former Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel (Photo: Gage Skidmore, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

When they gath­er at Ocean Shores this com­ing week­end for the four­teenth annu­al Roanoke Con­fer­ence, this state’s Repub­li­can activists will see on their sched­ules a pan­el enti­tled: “The Ele­phant in the Room: We keep los­ing, so what do we do next?” Defeat­ed U.S. Sen­ate can­di­date Tiffany Smi­ley is one of the speakers.

The imme­di­ate answer is appar­ent­ly a legal inter­ven­tion, one unlike­ly to help the party’s lack of pop­u­lar­i­ty or improve its elec­toral for­tunes in any way.

State and nation­al Repub­li­cans are fil­ing briefs in a law­suit that seeks to end the error-filled sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion process on Washington’s mail-in ballots.

The suit, filed ear­li­er this month in King Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court, alleges that thou­sands of valid votes get reject­ed and that rejec­tions hit a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of younger, Black, Latino/Latina and dis­abled vot­ers.

The plain­tiffs include a trio of groups – VetVoice, El Cen­tro de la Raza and Wash­ing­ton Bus – as well as indi­vid­u­als who have had their sig­na­tures repeat­ed­ly flagged. They are rep­re­sent­ed by the Perkins Coie law firm.

State Repub­li­can Chair­man Caleb Heim­lich, new­ly reelect­ed to his post, announced last week that the Repub­li­can Par­ty would file a brief defend­ing the process of com­par­ing sig­na­tures on bal­lots with those on file.

“Rather than attempt to make changes to the law through the Leg­is­la­ture, left-wing groups and their Demo­c­rat [sic] allies are attempt­ing to do away with the entire ver­i­fi­ca­tion process through the courts,” said Heimlich.

“They have filed a law­suit attempt­ing to remove sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion from our elec­tion process. This is a bla­tant­ly par­ti­san attempt to remove the only secu­ri­ty mea­sure elec­tions have to pro­tect against fraud­u­lent activity.”

Embat­tled Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee Chair Ron­na McDaniel announced that the RNC, too, was weigh­ing in, say­ing: “Basic elec­tion safe­guards mat­ters – espe­cial­ly in Demo­c­rat-run [sic] states where few guardrails remain.”

The last few words speak to a wider agen­da. Five states have switched entire­ly or large­ly to mail-in vot­ing. They include Utah, which just reelect­ed ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Mike Lee and four Repub­li­can House mem­bers, as well as “blue” states Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Hawaii.

Col­orado is, like Wash­ing­ton was many years ago, see­ing its polit­i­cal col­ors change from pur­ple to blue.

Hos­til­i­ty to mail-in vot­ing, and cast­ing sus­pi­cion, became part of the 2020 Trump reelec­tion strat­e­gy, and the evolv­ing plot to chal­lenge elec­tion results if “the Don­ald” lost. “Mail vot­ing is a ter­ri­ble thing… I think if you vote, you should go (to the polls),” the 45th pres­i­dent said in the spring of 2020.

Short­ly after, he request­ed a vote-by-mail bal­lot in Florida.

Ron­na McDaniel spout­ed the par­ty line that Democ­rats were using the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic to spread the polit­i­cal virus of mail-in vot­ing. “The Democ­rats’ all-mail bal­lots pro­pos­al is a ruse to legal­ize bal­lot har­vest­ing nation­wide,” McDaniel said in 2020, adding: “Mail-in vot­ing increas­es the oppor­tu­ni­ty for fraud.”

The Repub­li­cans’ prob­lem is, vot­ers like mail-in voting.

It’s easy and con­ve­nient, and allows for study of voter’s pam­phlets and oth­er elec­tion mate­ri­als with bal­lots in hand. The Democ­rats have adjust­ed their tac­tics. When count­ed, mail-in votes tipped Penn­syl­va­nia to Joe Biden in 2020 and led net­works to declare his vic­to­ry. Big mail-in vote totals car­ried Sen­a­tor (and Rev­erend) Raphael Warnock to his 2022 vic­to­ry in Geor­gia, and to reelec­tion of Sen­a­tor Mark Kel­ly in Ari­zona. Both states had flipped to Biden in 2020.

A few Repub­li­cans are urg­ing the par­ty to wise up. “We sim­ply have to beat them at this vote-by-mail game,” said Blake Mas­ters, defeat­ed by Kel­ly in the Grand Canyon State. Said Newt Gin­grich, lick­ing wounds on Sean Hannity’s Fox News pro­pa­gan­da broad­cast, “It means that you have to rec­og­nize ear­ly voting.”

The sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion process in Wash­ing­ton is flawed.

Peo­ples’ sig­na­tures change, sig­na­tures are scrib­bled: We can’t all be John Han­cock, or Don­ald Trump when he bold­ly signed a full-page news­pa­per ad urg­ing the death penal­ty for the “Cen­tral Park Five.” (The teenagers, charged with a bru­tal rape, were lat­er found to be innocent.)

When the suit against ver­i­fi­ca­tion was filed, 36,000 2022 elec­tion bal­lots across the state had already been rejected.

In the past three elec­tions, accord­ing to plain­tiffs’ brief, 113,000 bal­lots had been giv­en a thumbs down, 42,000 in King Coun­ty. “These vot­ers have their bal­lots reject­ed for vir­tu­al­ly no ben­e­fit to elec­tion integri­ty,” said the brief.

“The sig­na­ture matchup dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly hurts young vot­ers, vot­ers of col­or and active-duty ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies vot­ing overseas.”

By so doing, it added, sig­na­ture ver­i­fi­ca­tion vio­lates the right to vote as laid out in the Wash­ing­ton State Constitution.

Back­ing up their argu­ment, plain­tiffs found that young Latino/Latina and Black vot­ers have bal­lots reject­ed at twelve times the rate of white overs over the age of forty. Gen­er­a­tion X vot­ers, ages twen­ty-two to thir­ty, are six times as like­ly to get reject­ed as those over forty.

The rea­sons: Elec­tion offi­cials are not hand­writ­ing experts and have as many as three mil­lion statewide votes to count. Or in words of the brief: “They make mis­takes. They are rushed to ‘ver­i­fy’ mil­lions of sig­na­tures in just a few weeks. They aren’t experts in hand­writ­ing analy­sis. They are not trained as such.”

Plain­tiff Kaeleene Escalante Mar­tinez has seen her bal­lot reject­ed three times in as many elec­tions. Co-plain­tiff Bethan Cantrell has a chron­ic con­di­tion that makes writ­ing and sign­ing her name extreme­ly uncomfortable.

Co-plain­tiff Raisha Bratt has, in words of the brief, “a com­pli­cat­ed signature.”

It doesn’t stop there.

Elec­tion law expert Kevin Hamil­ton, part­ner at Perkins Coie, has become pub­lic advo­cate for the law­suit. “John Carl­son inter­viewed me a few weeks ago on his show about the case,” Hamil­ton said in an e‑mail. “Dur­ing that inter­view, he revealed that his sig­na­ture had been chal­lenged pur­suant to this process.”

A Los Ange­les Times reporter uncov­ered this nugget report­ing on the 2020 elec­tion: “Julie Wise, the top elec­tion offi­cial for King Coun­ty (which includes Seat­tle), said her own sig­na­ture has been chal­lenged twice, includ­ing once while she held her cur­rent position.”

Both Wise and Sec­re­tary of State Steve Hobbs are defen­dants in the ver­i­fi­ca­tion suit. Hamil­ton had his own vote chal­lenged in the 2004 elec­tion, in which he was co-lead coun­sel (with Jen­ny Durkan) defend­ing Gov­er­nor Chris Gregoire’s 133-vote vic­to­ry mar­gin against a Repub­li­can challenge.

The coun­ty had his sig­na­ture on “dozens (maybe hun­dreds) of legal briefs, pro­posed orders, dec­la­ra­tions and relat­ed papers” as part of the lit­i­ga­tion, which was tried in Chelan Coun­ty Supe­ri­or Court.

Vot­ers are noti­fied if their sig­na­tures are reject­ed. They are giv­en twen­ty-one days to “cure” their bal­lots. In close con­tests, vol­un­teers from both par­ties set out to “chase” votes by con­tact­ing those whose bal­lots have been reject­ed and make them part of the process. Oth­er­wise, cur­ing is a cum­ber­some process. Perkins Coie is rep­re­sent­ing plain­tiffs in a sim­i­lar ver­i­fi­ca­tion law­suit in Colorado.

“None of the five states that held their elec­tions pri­mar­i­ly by mail has had any vot­er fraud scan­dals since mak­ing that change,” accord­ing to the Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice at The New York Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law. “It is still more like­ly for an Amer­i­can to be struck by light­ning than to com­mit mail fraud voting.”

The state of Wash­ing­ton count­ed one hun­dred and forty-two poten­tial vot­er fraud cas­es out of 3.1 mil­lion votes cast in the 2018 midterm elections.

That amount­ed to 0.0004 per­cent of the bal­lots flagged.

The Repub­li­cans’ choice of this issue inter­ven­tion is wor­thy of seri­ous question.

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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