Sponsors of Referendum 71, the effort to overturn Washington’s new “everything but marriage” domestic partnership law, are accusing the state Elections Division of rushing the signature-verification process and being biased against their effort. Election officials at the Secretary of State’s office are pushing back, strongly defending their crew of signature-checkers as conducting the process with great care and diligence, not rushing through – and certainly not showing bias one way or the other about the legislation in question.
Gary Randall of the Faith and Freedom Network, part of the campaign group called Protect Marriage Washington, made its allegations in an e-mailed “state wide call to action and prayer,” saying the “homosexual lobby” had pressured the Secretary to accelerate the signature check. That had the effect of boosting the group’s error rate due to “carelessness and/or sympathy for the other side,” he wrote. The group flooded the Secretary’s offices with hundreds of phone calls, emails and blog comments.
Secretary Reed declined comment, but stood by a response from the Elections Division that said the criticism was ill-founded:
• The Secretary’s office did not make a decision to speed up the process.
• In fact, the Secretary’s office added an additional check to search for signatures from recent registrations. This check adds time to the process.
• Signature checkers have not been directed to spend less time looking for matching signatures.
• Signature checkers continue to follow established search methods and be thorough when researching each signature on a petition sheet.
• Signature checkers will continue to use the same methods they’ve used throughout the process.
Regarding deadlines and potential lawsuits
• We have a deadline to meet for printing the ballots. However, there is ample time to meet this deadline AND conduct a fair and thorough verification process.
• We are aware of the potential for lawsuits – from both sides – but, the threat of lawsuits is not a factor in decisions made about managing the pace of the verification process.
Regarding the increase in the invalid rate as being an indicator that we are not being careful
• Since beginning the verification process, our office has told the public and Ref. 71 sponsors that the invalid rate will increase throughout the process and that duplicate signatures are the most significant factor in this increase.
• This trend is mathematically provable and has occurred with every ballot measure our office has verified in the last 20 years, it is not unique to Ref. 71.
• The invalid rate is increasing as a result of finding more duplicate signatures, not because we are carelessly rejecting signatures.
• Here is brief explanation about duplicates, taken from the FAQs we posted to our website days ago. We also gave copies of this FAQ to observers from both sides:
Question: How do duplicates factor into the process?
Response: Duplicates are probably the single most significant factor in a close signature check such as Referendum 71.
Once a representative sample of signatures has been checked, trends become established for the number of signers who are not registered or the number of signers whose signatures do not match. Once established, it would be unusual for these trends to change.
That is not the case with duplicates. When only 1,000 signatures have been checked, the next signature checked is compared against that pool of 1,000 signatures already checked. The likelihood of finding a duplicate in a pool of 1,000 signatures is relative low.
But, when 130,000 signatures have been checked, the likelihood of finding a duplicate signature in the much larger pool logarithmically increases.
Thus, as the pool of signatures checked increases, the likelihood of finding duplicates increases.
The result of this dynamic with duplicates is that the rejection rate that appears established early in the check is always expected to increase as the signature check progresses.”