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Friday R-71 fix: Another 9,000 signatures counted

by Brian Zylstra | August 21st, 2009

The Elections Division’s signature checkers have reviewed just over 9,000 new Referendum 71 signatures . The cumulative signature check total is now more than 97,000, almost two-thirds of the total submitted in late July.

Nearly 86,000 signatures have been accepted and almost 11,400 rejected for one reason or another. The signature error rate has dropped from yesterday’s 11.97 percent to the current rate of 11.68 percent. The overall rejection rate must not go over 12.4 percent if R-71 is to go on the ballot.

The latest update showed these totals: 97,287 checked, with 85,920 accepted and 11,367 rejected. The R-71 sponsors, Protect Marriage Washington, need 120,577 valid Washington voter signatures for the referendum to be placed on the November statewide ballot. The sponsors are trying to overturn the recently adopted “everything but marriage” law (SB 5688) that expands state rights and responsibilities to state-registered domestic partners so that they equal those granted to married couples.

The rejections so far are broken down as follows: 9,347 people whose registrations not found, 947 whose petition signature did not match the one on file, 1,021 duplicates and 52 cases where checkers have asked that the voter’s home county for an electronic signature that can be compared with the signature on the petition.       

The results of the recent registration check are included in today’s numbers.  For more on the results of the recent registration check, check out this post .

The referendum checkers have reviewed about 450 volumes or “batches” of 15 petition sheets, each bearing up to 20 signatures. There are 623 volumes overall.

19 Responses to “Friday R-71 fix: Another 9,000 signatures counted”

  1. Please! SLOW down, Mr. Sam Reed! As a WA state resident I want the signatures checked thoroughly and the rush halted on R-71!

  2. J Scooter says:

    Regarding the signatures that have now been added (after initial rejection) on the ground that the names have showed up on the ‘updated’ registered voter list. I raised this comment earlier, but still there is really no response about the specific words of the state law that are involved:

    In a prior response by Dave Ammons when I raised this question, Dave Ammons said: “Our policy says that if the new voter fills out the registration card, he/she has done all they can do, and that the subsequent process of the registration being received and processed at the county elections office should not count against the new voter. This has been the policy for some time, and was not dreamt up for R-71. This question, like all of the others associated with R-71 check, is subject to judicial review. I suspect no judge would rule against the new voters.”

    First of all, I’ve never said or even hinted that the process of qualifying signatures is being “dreamt up for R-71.” If others have said that, I disagree with their statements. I think all of you at the SoS office are doing your very best. However, what we are all finding out is that potential problems with long-standing procedures like this one (and others) really didn’t make a difference in the past when the signature counts weren’t close in prior referenda (or initiatives) — but they could make a big difference now. For example, you’ve now added hundreds of names to the ‘accepted’ list because you found their registrations in an updated registered voter list… continuing to add hundreds of signatures shows why looking at the specific language of the state law is essential.

    Second, as to the concern about counting signatures of persons who weren’t on your voter rolls (or whose registrations to vote weren’t even submitted BEFORE the petitions were submitted) — I don’t believe you’ve really answered the concern that this process effectively extends the deadline for submitting the correct number of signatures. The legislature set a specific deadline for petitions to be submitted; it didn’t seem to leave a loophole that the deadline could effectively be extended by days or weeks as the result of counting signatures of persons who weren’t registered voters when they signed, or when the petitions were submitted.

    Third, and related to this same point about the legislature having set these procedures, and no one has explained how accepted signatures based on an updated registration list is consistent with the specific state law where the registered voter was not registered AT THE TIME S/HE SIGNED THE PETITION. For example, on last Friday, the SoS lawyers made a filing with the federal court in which the SoS submitted affidavits describing the signature process, and the SoS quoted from state law. The quotes were to Wash. Rev. Code Section 29A.72.130 which says anyone who signs a petition is attesting that “I am a legal voter” (NOT, I “will become” a legal voter, or I “am filing a voting registration form”), and to Wash. Rev. Code Section 29A.72.130 which says that it is punishable by fine or imprisonment if someone signs “when he or she IS not a legal voter” (NOT, “he or she is not eligible to become” a legal voter). In fact, the petitions themselves that were submitted contain similar warnings to people not to sign if they are not legal voters. With the state law so clear, regardless of what long-standing procedures the SoS has followed, the fact remains that if Mary Jones or Tom Smith signs a petition on July 10 saying that “I AM a legal voter”, and if his/her new voting registration isn’t even sent into the SoS until July 15 — or, even worse, until after the petitions are filed — it simply is inconceivable that the person could be considered a ‘legal voter’ WHEN S/HE SIGNED THE PETITION, which is what the legislature has required. You’ve said that you suspect a judge would not find that there is a problem here, but can you cite one single court decision — from any state — where the court ruled that when a law says a person must be a legal voter at the time s/he signed a petition, the law allows that person’s signature to be counted even though s/he didn’t file his/her voter registration until days after signing the petition? I would find it interesting to read any such court decisions if you know of them — as they would appear to be contrary to the direct language of what Washington’s statutes seem to say.

    Apart from explaining the long-standing process used by the SoS, could you please explain how that process follows the specific language in the state law that says that signatories must affirm that “I am a legal voter” — NOT, “I have or will register to become a legal voter.”

  3. At least you are now calling it what it is………FIX! The FIX is in!

  4. Tracy Bracken says:

    I noticed that the error rate went up after Sam Reed added more checkers to the validation process. It appears that the Secretary of State is rushing things in order to sabotage R-71. The citizens of this state have the right to petition the government and make their voices heard. Please slow down so that every signature can be accurately validated.

  5. After reading through recent posts and comments, I’m confused about a few things. I hope you can help me understand.

    David Ammons reported on Aug 20th (http://blogs.secstate.wa.gov/FromOurCorner/index.php/2009/08/r-71-checking-and-rechecking/#more-3381), and Nick Handy clarified in the comments (http://blogs.secstate.wa.gov/FromOurCorner/index.php/2009/08/r-71-checking-and-rechecking/comment-page-1/#comment-1101) that a third level of scrutiny had been added to the signature checking process. That is, signatures still in the “rejected” pile after the initial checker and master checked had looked at them will now get a third check against the “live” voter registration database.

    Q1. Was this in response to the report from Protect Marriage Washington’s campaign manager that his observers, apparently in violation of the temporary restraining order, informed him that his daughter’s signature on R-71 had been rejected because it wasn’t found in the voter database?
    (http://www.protectmarriagewa.com/index.php/component/content/article/170-an-open-letter-to-friends-of-referendum-71)

    Q2: Why aren’t the initial signature checkers using the live database? Why create a separate 3rd step, another “bit at the apple”?

    On the front of the R-71 petition it says “WARNING: Every person who…signs this petition when he or she is not a legal voter…may be punished by fine or imprisonment or both.” Right below that, directly over the place where you sign, it says in large bold type “All Washington State voters may sign this statewide referendum.” That implies to me that if you’re not a registered voter, your signature isn’t valid.

    Q3. Don’t you have to be a registered voter to sign a referendum petition?

    Q4. During the 3rd check against the live voter database, do signatures get reverted to the “accept” pile ONLY on the basis of now being found to be from registered voters? In other words, is any earlier reason for rejection overturned at this phase other than someone not showing up in the old voter database because of the date of their voter registration?

    Q5. Are 3rd stage checkers who use the live voter database using voter registration date to determine whether a matching petition signature is valid, or are they accepting as valid any signature which matches one in the live database, even if the voter registration date is after the petition submission date of July 25th? If they are using registration date as a criterion, what is the cutoff date they are using?

    Thank you in advance.

  6. @ LJ, it is my experience having worked in other states that it is these “controversial” referendums or those which by their nature are part of an expensive campaign which cause the electorate and the legislature to focus on “cleaning up” the laws governing referendums. You as a citizen should look at this process and help generate a bill and debate on how to better the process. This will put integrity back into the process. The hurdle is that both sides of any argument may indeed want the process to stay as shady as possible in order for their side to be able to use the process and all its faults when they are running a petition. KnowThyNeighbor which is working with WhoSigned.org to process and publish the state database of names in Ref 71 was cautioned by a key player on the gay side not to criticize the wording on Ref 71 or draw to much attention to it as “progressives use the referendum process in Washington too.” I like you want the process to be clean, educational, legally worded and informational. However, it seems that many do not and a change in your laws may be a difficult undertaking.

  7. I have the same questions as LJ in Q5. Do the signers who weren’t registered when they signed have an unlimited time frame to register? If they dont have to be registered when they sign, one would think that the cut off would AT LEAST be July 25th.

    Tracy – The more signatures that are counted, the higher the duplicate / reject rate becomes. It is a matter of statistics, not how fast or slow the process takes. If anything, they are erring on the side of ADDING signatures, not rejecting them.

  8. Tracy & Niki,

    Thanks for voicing your concerns, but we would like to assure you that this idea that the check is being “rushed” is simply not founded. Our group of chcekers are conducting the process with great care and diligence, and they are not rushing through – and certainly not showing bias one way or the other about the legislation in question.

    For more information about the care we are using, see:

    http://blogs.secstate.wa.gov/FromOurCorner/index.php/2009/08/election-officials-r-71-checkers-using-care-not-rushing/

    Thanks again,
    Christina Siderius, Secretary of State’s Office

  9. Hi Doug, Several people have asked the same question, and our Elections Director has explained that the signer needs to be registered at the time the signature is checked by Elections.

    We use the date of the check because: A) We do not know what date a signer signs a petition, and B) initiative and referendum gatherers typically carry voter registration forms with them and this promotes voter registration. At the time of the check, we know that the person is a validly registered voter in the state of Washington. We support the policy behind this. The only signatures that are counted for the petition are signatures of validly registered voters. And, signers were not rejected simply because their registration form had not been processed by the state yet…

  10. D Ehrlich says:

    Please slow down and verify signatures. It’s important on any issue and it’s our right to be counted.
    Thank you

  11. Christina-
    So when will you stop checking signatures against registration records? How many times will a signature be checked “just in case” the signer has finally registered? For example: I signed Ref 71in June, but wasn’t a registered voter and was initially rejected. My signature was checked again against those who registered in July, and I still had not registered and was rejected again. How often is the registration database updated? If you are still checking is September, will you check AGAIN to see if I registered in August? It just weems like there needs to be some accountability and stopping point.

    A huge thanks to you & the team for doing an excellent job!

  12. I think the people are calling on your office to slow down and master check every signature, including those already accepted. They want you to make sure that if they’re signing this, they are not signing onto something that reaches the ballot full of forged signatures.

  13. Brian Zylstra says:

    Hi LJ – Regarding your first question, no, the third check process was not in response to the observer who noted that Larry Stickney’s daughter’s signature was not found in the database. We realized before then that the petition signers who registered to vote after late June would not appear on the version of the database that signature checkers had been using, so we began to check names in the “not found” against those people who registered to vote in July.

    On your second question, the initial signature checks are not using the live database at this time because we want the same process to be used for all petition volumes. We want consistency throughout the signature checking process. So, at this time, only permanent Elections Division staffers continue to have access to the live database.

    Regarding your third question, for decades, petition sponsors for all initiatives and referenda have registered people to vote at the time when they have people sign their petitions. These registration forms are later submitted to the state and then later put into the database. This longstanding practice has been encouraged and promoted by the state as a way of encouraging voter registration and participation. Neither the Legislature nor any court nor our office has altered this practice over time. This issue is further complicated by the fact that the “date of signing” is not required by state law on the petitions and does not appear on the petitions. So, there is no exact date when a person signed a petition. Some of those voter registration applications are turned in right away, and some are turned in when the petitions are submitted. Some applications are processed months or weeks before the petition deadline, and some are processed later. As a result, the determining factor will be, Was the signer registered to vote when the signature is checked? Even for petitions where the circulation began in January and the petition is filed in June, there is no information available on when someone signed the petition. Anyway, the practice that has been in effect for many years is that the key date here is the date of the signature check, and is currently the practice until changed either by the Legislature or the courts. (We understand that this may be reviewed by the courts in this difficult and close petition check.)

    On your fourth question, yes, during the third-check stage, only those signatures that are now found to be from registered voters are being moved to the accepted category.

    On your fifth question, for purposes of processing an initiative or referendum, there is no clear deadline for registering to vote. The deadline we are using is when a signature is reviewed by a signature checker. Also, see the reply to your third question.

  14. Christina Siderius says:

    Hi Doug, thanks for the encouragement … our checkers are working very hard on this process!

    When a checker finds a signer and can match the signature, that is a final decision. The signer has been found and the signature matched. When a checker cannot find a signature, senior checkers who are more experienced in this work to take a second look to see if the signer can be found. The third and final check happens at the end, when checkers make sure that people who registered late in the process are picked up and not rejected. If the person is currently registered at the time of this step, that signature is accepted; if not, that signature is rejected.

    You may find this FAQ on referendum 71 helpful in understanding the process:
    http://wei.secstate.wa.gov/osos/en/initiativesReferenda/Pages/R-71FrequentlyAskedQuestions.aspx

  15. J Scooter says:

    Christina,

    1) As to the SoS policy of accepting signatures as long as the name appears on the voter registration list as of the date that the signature is checked by a checker (eg, signer was NOT registered on date s/he signed, and NOT registered on date petitions were submitted, but signer’s name subsequently appeared on voter registration list some time before signer’s name was checked by a checker): QUESTON 1: Does the information retained in the SoS database show what date the signer’s name was actually received for voting registration purposes by the SoS voter registration office and/or on what date the signer’s name was added to the voter list?

    This will surely be an issue for the courts to decide, but the parties to the court case will need the SoS to preserve the above data regarding receipt / registration date of persons who weren’t registered voters when they signed the petitions and affirmed that “I AM a legal voter”. A judge can then determine if the SoS had the right to accept a signature on August 20 if the signer signed the petition on June 20, but the signer didnt submit his/her voter registration form until June 24 (or maybe even until July 24). Frankly, in terms of how WA’s referendum law is written, and the specific deadline for submitting valid signatures by registered voters, I cannot imagine a judge would find it legal to accept a signature who was not a registered voter when he/she signed the petition — but a judge will make that decision.

    2) As to the SoS policy mentioned above: QUESTION 2: Is there a WRITTEN SoS policy of accepting signatures of persons who were NOT registered when they signed — and if so, can you please cite the SoS regulation, rule, memorandum, etc. where this policy exists and when it was put into writing?

    Presumably, this is a long-standing written policy (per posts from Dave Ammons and you), and so the public should be able to see a copy of it. If the policy is NOT written, is it just some word-of-mouth internal operating procedure??

    3) In prior posts, I have asked a simple question that has yet to be answered by SoS officials in this blog, so could you please take a stab and answer it: QUESTION 3: Can the SoS cite a single court case, from any state, where signatures were accepted from persons who were not registered to vote at the time that they signed a petition, and where the statute itself clearly refers to the requirement that a petition signer must confirm that “I AM a legal voter” as the time he/she signs?
    Certainly, if there is such a court decision anywhere in the US, at this point the SoS must know about it — unless such a court decision doesnt exist.

    Anyway, could you please answer QUESTIONS 1 , 2 and 3 above? Thanks.

  16. “The third and final check happens at the end, when checkers make sure that people who registered late in the process are picked up and not rejected. If the person is currently registered at the time of this step, that signature is accepted; if not, that signature is rejected.”

    So, WHEN is “the end?” How long do you wait to do the third and final check? Is there an official cut off date after the last petition is checked? When is anough, enough?

    I’m sorry, but as J. Scooter seems to point out, this process really appears to be biased in favor of those behind Ref-71.

  17. Stephanie says:

    I can certainly understand that voter registration dates won’t be checked against petition signature dates. However, I don’t understand why the registration date isn’t checked against the date that the petition had to be turned in.
    In earlier posts, several people asked if they could have their signature removed because they signed under false pretenses and the response was that the SoS must have a drop dead date on the petition in order to ensure a proper and accurate count. Yet, if the third check of updated voter registrations is allowing registrations after the due date of the petition then the SoS is going against its own standard operating procedures and possibly more formal/official mandate.

  18. Thanks to everyone for the great discussion today.

    Because of the volume of questions we’re getting every day (which we love — keep them coming!), we just aren’t able to respond to every single question individually and right away.

    We will, however, attempt to address the questions you’ve raised in additional blog posts so that everyone can benefit from the answers. Sound OK?

    Thanks again for being so curious and engaged in this process. And as a friendly reminder, again (again), you can send me the same comment over and over and over again but if it A) has a string of four-letter words in it, B) makes fun of someone, C) uses generally offensive terms, D) endorses the measure, etc, etc, then it won’t get approved. Sorry…

    -Christina

  19. It is upsetting to think that people are signing this petition under false pretenses (i.e., attesting themselves to be registered voters when they are not) but their signatures are still being counted. It sounds like one short step away from voter fraud by misrepresentation to me. But, I guess if it’s “always been done that way”, it must be okay…

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