by Christina Siderius | August 28th, 2009
Friday greetings, fervent check followers! We’re kick-starting your weekend discussions today in 5 Questions, where our team talks you through your R-71 check questions. It’s all shifts and suits (though not the pinstripe kind) …
Q) Why does the recent lawsuit say that the Secretary of State accepted signatures on petitions that were not certified by the petition circulator?
One of the key points made in the lawsuit filed Thursday by Washington Families Standing Together against the Secretary of State is that a number of signatures were collected by signature gatherers who did not sign the backs of the petitions. The plaintiffs are pointing to a state law passed in 2005 requiring that a declaration be printed on the back of the petitions.
According to State Elections Director Nick Handy, the Elections Division since June 2006 has followed the advice of a formal Attorney General’s Opinion (AGO) regarding the 2005 law. Here is that May 2006 AGO , which can be found on the Attorney General’s Web site: http://www.atg.wa.gov/ .
“Based on what the Attorney General’s Opinion says, if the declaration is not printed on the back of the petitions, our office will reject the petition sheets,” Handy said. “Under the Attorney General’s opinion, the declaration does not have to be signed. If it is not signed, our office will not reject the petition sheets. Since 2006, we have consistently advised all initiatives and referendum sponsors that they do not have to submit signed declarations on the back. They do have to submit petition sheets with the declaration printed on the back.”
Handy pointed out that the Legislature has not changed the law since the Attorney General opinion.
“Since 2006, this has been the published position of our office. It is posted on our Web site and it has been disseminated to every initiative and referendum sponsor. While our position is not secret, this is the first time the issue has been litigated. As state officers, we are bound to follow the Attorney General’s advice,” Handy said.
Hey, what’s going on with all these lawsuits?
We have two lawsuits active right now that will be heard next week.
The first relates to whether copies of petition sheets should be made public. That case is in federal district court in Tacoma and will be heard Thursday, September 3. Federal District Court Judge Ben Settle will hear that case.
The second relates to whether an injunction should be issued preventing the Secretary of State from certifying Referendum 71 to the 2009 General Election ballot. That case will be heard before King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector on Monday afternoon at 2:30 in the King County Superior Court.
We’ll blog on these rulings as they come down. Stay tuned!
(Team Note: We won’t be commenting publicly about positions being taken in the lawsuit. We appreciate your patience and understanding on that. The case is scheduled for hearing next week, so we will all know soon about everyone’s arguments and the court’s ruling. Thanks all.)
Q.) How many signatures initially “rejected” in the first round of checks have been shifted to the “accepted” pile as the result of subsequent checks?
The so-called “recent registration check”, also known as the “third check” has resulted so far in 1,098 registrations being moved from “not found” to “match.”
The third check is using the live database to determine if any registrations “not found” on the June 19 copy of the database have made their way into the database since that time. Since the Referendum 71 sponsors were actively registering voters throughout July, we are not surprised to find significant numbers of new registrations for this petition.
Our system is not designed to capture shifts made by checkers between the first check and the second check (“the master check”). When a signature is “rejected” on the first round, it is essentially “held” until the second checker has made a decision on it. Because of that, we only track the second-check outcome, which is the number we release online each day.
Q.) How many voters are listed in the voter database as of July 25, 2009 (the petition turn-in day), and how many people who signed the petition were listed as registered after July 25?
First, the database is very fluid. Voters are added and subtracted every day. That is because new people register every day. Some people die. Some people move out of state. The database could have 100 today and 100 tomorrow but that might mean that 5 people died, 5 people moved, 10 new people registered, and 10 more moved from one county to another so the numbers never changed but lots of change occurred. It is very hard to draw conclusions about how many new registrants came into the system.
We will be reporting to the court exactly how many names are approved on the petition with registration dates after July 25. Based on current projections, we expect about 30 names will be affected by this category. Most of these are people who signed the petition shortly before the July 25 deadline and submitted voter registrations forms that were processed later. The bottom line is that the issue only appears to affect about 30 voters out of the 138,000 who signed the petition.
Q.) Why is it that when “rejected” signatures are looked at again and again there is sometimes a shift to “accepted” status? Isn’t there something wrong if you look at the same rejected signatures over and over and get different results?
The biggest reason that a signature is initially rejected is because it is designated “not found.” Now, maybe that’s what’s confusing. We could more accurately describe this designation as “not found at this moment with this specific information – but it could be found later if we found more information.” (But that would be really long.)
The first checkers run the name as it appears on the petition, with the address listed on the petition. BUT, sometimes the voter signed her maiden name, a nickname, an initial, or included a new address that just doesn’t match our records. The master checker is able to take more time reviewing all these little pieces and work through the various clues of information to find that voter. Many voters are the “needle in the haystack” sort (say, a “John Smith” who moved and didn’t change his registration card … yikes!) and the second check is intended to spend more time locating that voter (like looking through 300 “John Smith” signatures for the correct voter).
Don’t laugh. We do have over 30,000 Johnsons and 30,000 Smiths on the database. If we don’t have a good first name and a bad address, they are long shots. That is really too bad because even if they have moved they are still registered voters entitled to sign the petition. The signer just has not given us enough current information to help us find them. But, that is why we make the second effort with the master check to find these very difficult signatures.
This is generally why an initially rejected signature goes to the accepted pile: the second checker was able to locate that voter in the database. The “second set of eyes” step of this process has long proven to be an effective way for us to verify signatures.
Have a question about the R-71 checks? If you can’t find it in our comprehensive R-71 FAQs, then leave us a comment and our team will do our best to answer or clarify in our M-F “5 Questions” posts. You may also want to watch our video of the check to give you a visual on the process.