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Election officials: R-71 checkers using care, not rushing

by David Ammons | August 19th, 2009

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.

r71checkers

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:

Regarding speed

•    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.”

14 Responses to “Election officials: R-71 checkers using care, not rushing”

  1. J Scooter says:

    I SUBMITTED THIS COMMENT A LITTLE WHILE AGO ON ONE OF YOUR EARLIER BLOG REPORTS (it hasnt been reviewed yet by your office), BUT PERHAPS IT IS BEST POSTED UNDER THIS LATEST BLOG REPORT:

    Dave Ammons,

    Today’s posting is headlined “State fights for disclosure of R-71 petitions”. I have read your legal brief that was filed with the court last week, and it was very good. However, I have the following questions, and would hope that you can provide answers ASAP, while the counting process is still continuing:

    1) Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that control here, “The [temporary restraining] order expires at the time after entry — not to exceed 10 days — that the court sets, unless before that time the court, for good cause, extends it for a like period or the adverse party consents to a longer extension. The reasons for an extension must be entered in the record.” This rule makes it clear that a TRO can be issued ONLY for 10 days — and it can be extended ONLY for an additional 10 days (ie, “a like period”) and ONLY for “good cause”, or if the adverse party (ie, the state) “consents to a longer extension”. In this case, the TRO was issued on July 29, 10 days would be August 8, 20 days would be August 18, and yet the period of the TRO is 36 days until Sept 3! So, my questions are:
    A) Did the state consent to a TRO to be issued for 36 days, rather than simply 10 days + an additional 10 days (ie, 20 days total)?
    B) If the state did not consent to a 36-day TRO, then TRO issued by the court does not appear to explain what “good cause” exists for extending the TRO beyond 10 days, and thus the order itself seems deficient. Can you explain why the state has not gone into court and raised the question of, on what basis, the court issued a 36-day TRO — rather than the maximum 20 day TRO permitted by the rules (unless the state agreed to a longer period than 20 days)?
    If the state really is fighting for disclosure of the signatures, it would seem that contesting a 36-day TRO would be the first place to start — rather than waiting until Sept 3 when there is a court argument. In fact, the normal 20-day expiration period for TROs would have expired a yesterday, so there would be no order prohibiting the SoS from public release of the signatures today while the counting is still going on!

    2) The TRO issued by the court says that the defendants (ie the state) did NOT appear at the TRO hearing, and also that one factor the court considered in granting the TRO was “defendant’s failure to appear or otherwise object to this motion.” So my questions are:
    A) Did the state really fail to attend the TRO hearing? Why?
    B) Did the state really fail to make any objection to the TRO motion? Why?
    As you can imagine, it is troubling if the state really did not formally oppose the grant of the TRO motion.

    3) The TRO issued by the court says, at the end of the order, that defendants (ie the state) may apply to the court to modify the schedules set by the court, “including the expiration date of the TRO”. So, in essence, the court INVITED the state to ask the court to allow the TRO to expire before Sept 3 — in particular, with all of the comments that the SoS has received about third-party efforts to check signatures on the petition, and with the SoS himself admitting that this will be very very close, it seems like a perfect opportunity for the SoS to ask the court to dissolve the TRO now that the normal 20-day TRO period is over and to ask the court to substitute August 19 or 20 for Sept 3 as the TRO expiration date. So, my question is:

    A) Why doesnt the state take the court up on its invitation to ask that the expiration date of the TRO be modified to an earlier date — especially if it’s true that the state never even objected to the TRO in the first place?

    The bottom line is that you’ve done a very good job in your memorandum filed last week, explaining why the signatures must be released. Now, how about asking the court to change its TRO expiration date, especially since the expiration date is way beyond the 20 days allowed by the federal rules, there was no finding of ‘good cause’ in the TRO order for extending the TRO beyond even 10 days, and there continues to be great public interest in seeing the signatures while the counting is still going on — not just when the counting process is over. If you do this, rather than wait until Sept 3, then the title of the blog would be more correct when it says “State fights for disclosure of R-71 petitions.”

    Thanks in advance for answering these questions. Could you please specifically answer each question: 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B and 3A?

  2. Lisa Borkowski says:

    Excellent response from the SEC. I believe and trust that they are doing exactly what needs to be done to check these signatures. I support our State Elections Division!

  3. Way to go SoS. Nice to see you defend your process, however very sad that you have to. I think we all need to research what is being done and not rely on 3 parties to explain what someone is doing. Let allow them to do their job and not question how this works. They are getting a lot of presure from both sides and need to be left to do the job. Also that person that had observed the name and then passed it on should not have done that. This is currently under court order not to release names. Doesn’t matter if they knew the person or not.

  4. Susan Blakefield says:

    Great response!

    But what about the promised status report on the master check of the micro-sample of 200 names initially accepted by junior staff?

  5. Please tell me where on your website can I find the comprehensive spreadsheet that gives the daily totals so that we might better analyze what Protect Marriage Washington is saying and your responce. I was looking at it earlier today, did you pull it? If so, why?

  6. I urge everyone to copy the secretary of state’s page since they continuously take down the old fixed numbers and put up new fixed numbers. How to copy web pages:
    1. Press the Windows and Print Screen/SysRq buttons together.
    2. Open windows paint or adobe photoshop or a similar program.
    3. Press paste.
    4. Save.

  7. Susan–thanks. re the recheck– i’m still awaiting that report, which i believe is being reviewed by counsel before release to the two campaigns and to the public.

    Kerry and Lisa — thnx.

    J Scooter — i’ll have to refer you to the solicitor general’s office in the Attorney General’s office. my lay understanding is that the TRO was issued for the period between the date the R-71 and that the same judge said it would last until the hearing on the merits, which required briefing by both sides. i know that Jim Pharris, our counsel, needed time to come up with the California case and other research to buttress the state’s position that the TRO should be lifted, and to write his 25-page brief. we’ve said all along that because of the court proceedings that the petitions wouldn’t be available during the period of the signature checks — and that unless i’m missing something, there is really no process for either side to use citizen detective work on those petitions to influence the checks anyway. As i understand it, any affidavits or info about potential error would come as part of any judicial review, not part of the official count.

  8. Polly– the daily progress report and breakout of the latest increment are found here on the Secretary of State’s blog, From Our Corner, and are archived so you can still read each one. the Election Division’s R-71web page, via
    http://wei.secstate.wa.gov/osos/en/initiativesReferenda/Pages/R-71SignatureStats.aspx

    is updated every day, and there is a link on it to a spread sheet that describes the adjudication of each of the batches or “volumes” — each with 15 random petition sheets with between 1 and 20 signatures per.

  9. Hi David,

    I’m looking for the comprehensive spreadsheet with the R-71 data that you have had posted up until sometime today. It gives all of the daily totals in running order. I was looking at it this morning and cannot find it anywhere on your website now. I clicked on the link you provided me with and only get the short version and cannot compare day to day totals. No links are provided to any achived data. Please let me know.

  10. Polly, I think I might have figured out what’s confusing you. The web address for the detailed spreadsheet changes every day to reflect the new date, so if you are trying to call up a file with a URL based on a past date, you may not find anything (I haven’t tried). For example, here’s today’s spreadsheet URL:
    http://wei.secstate.wa.gov/osos/en/initiativesReferenda/Documents/Referendum%2071%20Volumes%20Completed%208-19-09.pdf

    the way to avoid this problem is to follow the fresh link provided every day from the page David Ammons directed you to, http://wei.secstate.wa.gov/osos/en/initiativesReferenda/Pages/R-71SignatureStats.aspx

  11. I can appreciate the pressure the Sec. of State department must be feeling in trying to count the signatures on R71. However, there are two sides to every story and I have every confidence that the supporters of R71 are not fabricating everything they’re saying. Obviously, we don’t all agree on the issue that R71 addresses, but isn’t it best if care is taken at every turn to assure that every signature is thoroughly checked, regardless of the time it takes? Let the voters decide what is right and best for their state by assuring accuracy in the counting of signatures and, if it is proven to have passed the proper criteria, allowing this measure to go on the November Ballot.

  12. The voter initiative process, as implemented in the several states that allow it, has been used constantly by special interest groups from all corners of the political landscape.

    They can and do use scare tactics and even deception to turn voters their way. This is why I typically do not place much trust in partisan press releases from groups not directly connected with any official business. Oftentimes people with an agenda gun for anything they see as standing in the way of their goals. This can lead to unfortunate acts like bearing false witness and disrespecting our democratic government.

    Now I’m sure that the supporters of Ref. 71 honestly believe that their allegations of malfeasance are true. That doesn’t make their allegations true. Some sort of evidence might, but so far the only side that’s provided any evidence is the WA Secretary of State’s Office.

    Personally coming from a Christian perspective, I find it irresponsible to assume the worst from everyone. That tends to lead to things like bearing false witness and disrespecting people. I also find it saddening that the backers of Ref. 71 have fallen onto that course.

    If they had proof to show, they would have. Since they do not, the best possible explanation is that they have made baseless accusations. The worst explanation: that they’re lying and they know it. I’d prefer to believe the former, until I have proof otherwise.

  13. gerry vance says:

    Mr Reed
    I was unable to e-mail you for some reason so I am going to hope this reaches you.
    I am asking you to please slow down and not fold under the pressure from the left to try to find a way not to accept some of the signatures for ref#71. I am asking you to make the signature counters to just slow down and be fair.
    Thank you very much
    Gerry Vance
    This means alot for America and even much more for the Lord Jesus Christ.

  14. Joe Bruce says:

    Thank you for all your hard work!

    Please continue to be vigilant and do not lightly dismiss concerns about the process.

    We all wish we lived in a perfect world where we would not have to raise concerns when we felt the need to do so. Thank God we live in America where we do have this right!

    Thank you for responding to our concerns and taking them seriously.

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