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R-71: Checking and rechecking …

by David Ammons | August 20th, 2009

r71six2As previously noted, there are two wrinkles in locking down the final count for each of the Referendum 71 volumes of petition signature. One is that dozens of signatures are temporarily put in the reject pile while the voter’s home county is asked to send an electronic signature that can be used to compare with the petition signatures. Many of those are eventually added to the “accepted” pile.

The other involves a check of signatures rejected because they weren’t found in the copy of the state voter database used for checking signatures.  Because checkers have been working off of the same version of the database that was used to check Initiative 1033 earlier this summer, new voters who registered in July didn’t show up.  As the Elections Division begins a “recent registration check,” about 12 percent of those originally not found are being picked up via the current database that master checkers can access.

Nick Handy, state elections director, called it “another dynamic in the mix” as the R-71 enters its final phase. The R-71 error rate has been slowly rising as more and more duplicate signatures are spotted, and that trend will be offset by potentially hundreds of previously rejected new voters being added to the accepted stack, he said.  Of 2,401 rejects processed so far, 285 were found on the live database.  Efforts by R-71 to secure a November ballot spot remains too close to call, he says.

This is from an Elections Division backgrounder:

Our checkers are finding in the live database about 12 percent of the names that were originally “not found” on the late June database copy. That is, of course, because the referendum organizers were encouraging people to sign the petition and register to vote at the same time, so many people actually registered to vote in July for the specific purpose of signing this petition. It is common practice for signature gatherers to register voters while circulating initiative and referendum petitions. In the past, signature gatherers have submitted voter registrations during the signature collection effort.

Also, there were probably a number of voter registration drives underway in late June and July, as King and other counties had primary elections earlier this month.  Some of these primaries included high profile races, such as King County Executive and Seattle Mayor. In that context, it is not surprising that we are finding significant numbers of these voters in the “recent registration” check.

As an aside, our office support voter registration efforts, and encourages citizens to register to vote and participate in the process.  Often times it is a particular ballot measure or race for a particular public office the stirs enough public interest that people who have never registered decide to register.  We want and promote this kind of civic engagement.

As a result of the update we announced previously and included in our Frequently Asked Questions, we currently are reviewing the pool of 7,805 “not found” signers to date, and have indications that approximately 12 percent of those will change to registered voters if this pattern continues.  We will be updating the data reported on our website to reflect these new changes.

40 Responses to “R-71: Checking and rechecking …”

  1. Susan Blakefield says:

    David:

    Thank you very much for the above report and for the report included in the comments section on the previous post.

    Reading through all of these different posts and reports, it is possible for one to get a little confused. So could you kindly confirm my understanding? As I read these reports the rejected signatures have had the following checks:

    - Initial check by junior staff

    - 1st Master check

    - 2d Master check on live voter database

    - 3d Master check only for selected group of 225 signatures identified by proponents

    As I understand it, the “accepted” signatures have had:

    - Junior staff check

    - Master check for selected group of 226 signatures identified by opponents

    Thanks!

  2. Davis, I thought these 7,805 “not found” signers have already gone through two checks. Is there now a third check?

  3. Sorry, meant to say “David”!

  4. Susan Blakefield says:

    One other question: Do today’s totals, just posted on the R71 page, include the 285 shifted as the result of the live database check, or has that adjustment not yet found its way into the totals?

  5. I have a question. Suppose someone signed the petition on June 1st, but then didn’t actually register to vote until July 1st. And their registration is now “found” does it still get counted as a valid signature? Basically what I’m asking is, does the person have to be a “registered voter” at the time of signing the petition? Clearly if they registered at the same time they signed the petition, they were registering most likely for the purpose of being counted. But if they did not register at the same time, but after they had signed the petition, their signature in all honesty shouldn’t count because at the time of signing they weren’t a registered voter, right?

  6. David…

    Are the 1st round checkers still using the old database, or have they been updated? Please say they’ve been updated.

    I’m asking because I’d like to know if the new “signature not found” numbers from the last 24 hours are all susceptible to another check, or if they are really rejected.

    Tony

  7. David,

    Are those 285 signatures currently being included in the “accepted” or the “rejected – not in database” totals on the summary sheet?

  8. Rob — you are correct.
    Susan– your list sounds right, but the recent-registration check is underway, and the “rejected” stack doesn’t reflect that.

  9. What are the standards for the checkers to use when comparing the petition signature against the electronic signature? This could be a very vague area, open to possible manipulation. If in doubt, is the standard to accept the petition signature or to reject it?

  10. Nick Handy says:

    Susan,
    Thanks for your questions.

    The first check is by temporary workers hired and trained to be checkers who are working from a copy of the late June database.

    The second check by Master Checkers is just of the signatures rejected by the initial checkers. The Master Checkers are our more experienced checkers and they too are using the late June database.

    The final check is limited to those who were “not found” in either of the first two checks and is done using a live version of the state’s data base. The purpose of this check is to pick up anyone who registered to vote since the late June copy of the database.

    The Sample Reviews you reference consisted of two selected reviews of about 225 signatures each done at the request of the two observer groups.

    I hope this is helpful. Thank you for following the process.

    Nick Handy
    Director of Elections

    The third

  11. Nick Handy says:

    Hi Rob,

    The first two checks have been done using a copy of the voter registration database that was pulled in late June.

    The third check is being done only to those “not found” in the first two checks and is being done using the live database that is current. The purpose of this check is to pick up any signers who registered after the late June copy of the database was made.

    Thanks for your questions.
    Nick Handy
    Director of Elections

  12. David,

    Have you considered the potential that a number of accepted signatures are accepted incorrectly? Given that rejects are given up to 4 chances at being accepted and you are finding errors it seems that at least a second level of review should be applied to the accepted ones? Also, if a voter signed before registering is their signature accepted?

    Thanks

  13. RIGGED. RIGGED. RIGGED. The election officials are rigging this election so that this anti-gay initiative gets on the ballot. They have done everything to benefit the anti-gay initiative.

  14. David, So the “Rejected” pile gets checked, re-checked, and then re-re-checked (3 times). However, the “Accepted” pile gets checked only once. Is that correct?

  15. David, one last question. If the new, new, new “Rejected” percentage once again nears the 12.43% magic number, is a 4th re-re-re-re-check envisioned (but only of the “Rejected” pile, of course)?

  16. David,

    Three questions:

    On what date did the third-stage checks start?

    Are they going through the volumes in numerical order (approximately)?

    If so, can we be told, at least approximately, which volumes have been finally and irreversibly completed (well, perhaps with the exception of the few “pending”)?

  17. Paul Johns says:

    David, what’s the cutoff date for the registration update? Does your office intend to do this check repeatedly, or once at the “end”?

    It seems to me that the voter should need to have been registered at the DATE OF THE SIGNING or have applied to register on or before the signature date. Is there a way to check to see when the registration form was completed? I would assume there’s a date on it.

    It appears to me that if we didn’t check the dates, the check of the updated registration database could allow folks to sign while not a registered voter and subsequently register. That would be like casting a ballot and registering later, and it doesn’t meet, in my opinion, the requirement that the signer be a registered voter. It is not difficult to find another opportunity to sign once you’re properly registered.

    There is precedent for requiring registration, even pre-registration: there is a registration deadline for voting: the Monday four weeks before Election Day. You can register IN PERSON at a county elections office up to the Monday the week before Election Day, and can vote if you’ve been properly registered even if you change your address. But if you’re not registered, you can’t expect to vote.

  18. Paul Johns says:

    The fact that these extra checks are being done makes it even more important to figure out the error rate for signtures accepted on the initial check. The checkers work hard and are honest, but honest human beings sometimes make mistakes.

    If they reject a signature mistakenly, it will be rechecked and the error corrected.

    If they accept a signature mistakenly, the current process will NOT find nor correct those errors. While this source of error is likely small, there is no reason to believe that it is zero.

    That difference creates a bias in the system–a bias for putting a referendum on the ballot that may not have actually received the required number of signatures.

    You are good, honest public servants. I assume that your goal is to count the signatures correctly as best we humanly can so that we make a proper determination as to whether this referendum should go on the ballot or not.

    Simply ignoring this source of errors does not meet that goal. Doing an appropriately-sized appropriately-randomized check of the signatures to determine the bounds and probablilities of this error rate will help us meet that goal.

  19. Look real close at this picture.
    notice something unusual?
    It seems they are describing each circumstance under which the signatures are checked. BUT..under the last one where it says: accept = found there is a happy face!!
    to me this indicates a leaning of these “fact checkers” to be overjoyed when they find a valid signature that will strip gays of their human rights…

    why no sad face after the signature does not match?…hmmm..very telling picture indeed.

    no signature match…no big deal..but find a valid signature..HAPPY DAYS!!!

  20. gwen cadogan says:

    Folks, I think we’re reading too much into this. I seriously, seriously doubt that a “happy face” pile means anything other than accepted. I’m rather positive that it doesn’t mean a thing.

    Do not sink to name-calling here as many have. The checkers have been accused of being for R-71, against R-71, and lots of other things. I think Secretary of State Reed’s history of being fair and nonpartisan through multiple elections and multiple ballot petitions speaks for itself. If there’s anyone I’m willing to trust here, it’s the Secretary of State’s office. I certainly have a decided position here (hint: I like my rights, and I said “we”) but…if the office stood up for fairness and right through the 2004 election and made sure each and every valid vote was counted, we can certainly trust them to tabulate signatures here. I’m proud to say that I’ve never voted for a Republican in my life that wasn’t named Sam Reed, and I’m proud to have voted for him every time. Don’t sink to the level of name-calling, especially when this office has exemplified how civil servants should act. Don’t get angry while these folks are doing their jobs.

  21. Matthew N says:

    Hi David, I’m assuming the “updated” list of voter registration will only be up to July 25 (i.e. if someone registered to vote yesterday, their signature will NOT be counted?)

  22. “As a result of the update we announced previously and included in our Frequently Asked Questions, we currently are reviewing the pool of 7,805 “not found” signers to date, and have indications that approximately 12 percent of those will change to registered voters if this pattern continues.”

    So I’d expect that 6%-12% of accepted signatures will revert to rejected, then?

  23. David-
    There are some very valid points in the above posts. Looking forward to a thorough response soon!

  24. Jay Jonson says:

    Dieter, I agree with you. The process seems to be biased toward accepting signatures, even if the voters were not registered when they signed. The practice of rechecking and rechecking to see if someone should be added needs to be complemented by a practice of checking and rechecking to see if a signature was accepted when it should not have been. This is especially egregious in this case where this is indisputable evidence of the fraudulent collection of signatures.

  25. Paul Johns says:

    My reading of the state law is that the signer must be a “legal voter” at the time of signing. I coudln’t find a definition for the phrase “legal voter,” but it is used as a synonym for “registered voter” in both the State Constitution and in RCW 29A.72, the section about initiatives and referenda. If the registration form is mailed, the date of registration is the mailing date; if delivered to a county auditor or Secretary of State, the delivery date; if collected by a third party, the delivery date to an auditor or the Secretary of State; if electronic, the date the registration form is completed.

    **TECHNICALLY**, then, it appears to me that, at least according to the statute, it is not legal to sign a petitiion and register at the same time unless the registration form is delivered to a county auditor or the Secretary of State *THE SAME DAY*. However, it appears that there is an existing practice of allowing people to register to vote as they sign up. It’s not clear to me whether this is legal or not. My guess is that there may be some case law (judge’s decision) that makes this legal.

    What I think is fair is that if the voter completes the registration form or registers online the same day as they sign, they should be considered a legal voter. But that might not be what the law says.

  26. Nick Handy says:

    TO Wally at 5:35.

    Our signature matching standards are providing by signature experts at the Washington State Patrol. We train election workers statewide and in the initiative and referendum checks to these standards.

    You are correct, though, that there is some level of subjectivity in this process.

    Thanks for asking.
    Nick Handy
    Director of Elections

  27. Since Dave Ammons is out today, I’m responding to questions posted:

    Hi Warren – Regarding your question, Elections Director Nick Handy told me that Elections is counting the signature if the voter is in the database as of the time of the check. We don’t know when the voter signed the petition. That is not required information. So, if the voter signed, the key date is the date we check our database. Since we are doing a “recent registration check” on this petition, we are accepting signatures if they are on the live database as of the date of our check.

    Hi Stephen – Regarding your question on “Rejected” pile and the “Accepted” pile, you are correct. According to Nick Handy: “Once a checker has found the voter and verified the signature, that is considered an accepted signature. That is established procedure over many years of signature checking. The signature either matches or it does not. The checker can call for help if he or she is uncertain, but the decision at that point is final.

    “The signatures that are rejected are much more complicated and years of signature checking has demonstrated that we need Master Checkers for these. Please consider the following example.

    “If ‘Jim Johnson’ signs his petition clearly printing his name, and address, and with a clear signature that matches the voter registration card, our initial checkers will find that easily and the signature will match.

    “If ‘Jim Johnson’ for his first name puts a ‘J’ with a scrawl after it, that raises questions of whether this is John, Jack, Jim, Joe or some other ‘J’ name. Further, if this ‘Jim Johnson’ has moved and not updated his or her address with his local elections office, the address put on the initiative petition is now different than the address on the voter registration data. This ‘J___ Johnson’ has just become a ‘needle in the haystack.’ We have over 30,000 people in the database with the last name of Johnson. An initial checker may or not find this Jim Johnson and the Master Checker may or may not either. But, we need the advanced expertise of our Master Checkers to follow through on these kinds of situations.

    “I provide this example to show how it is important to have a ‘master check’ process to help with these extremely difficult situations of “not found” individuals.

    “I understand how it may appear that one side is getting one bite at the apple and the other side is getting three bites. In fact, our procedures are based upon decades of experience doing hundreds of initiative and referendum checks.”

    Hi Darryl – Regarding your question, we started the recent signature checks at 2 p.m. on August 17.

    – Brian Zylstra, Deputy Communications Director

  28. Nick Handy says:

    Regarding the Three Bites versus One Bite Issue, please consider the following.

    One concern by those who do not want this measure to make it to the ballot is that sponsors are getting “three bites” at the apple because the state is conducting three checks on “rejected” signatures.

    These same folks are concerned that approved signatures only get one check and are not later reviewed, thus “this side” is only getting “one bite” at the apple.

    These practices are longstanding practices used by the Elections Division for decades and are not designed or intended to benefit one side or the other. They are developed based upon various needs that have arisen, as described below.

    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. If a checker is unsure, he or she can request help from a more experienced checker in making that decision.

    When a checker cannot find a signature, perhaps for reasons explained to Stephen earlier regarding names that have essentially become “needles in the haystack”, historical experience has proven that we need to have Master Checkers who are more experienced in this work to take a second look to see if the signer can be found.

    The third check is to make sure that people who registered late in the process are picked up by the check. In most checks, we do not need this third step because we would have already found sufficient names to qualify the measure on the ballot. That is, we may be 75% through the signature check when we have validated the number of signatures required to certify a measure to the ballot.

    The critical closeness of this particular check has created a need for this third check.

    Thus, the checks are being done for very specific time tested reasons, not just to give one side more “bites at the apple” than the other.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Nick Handy
    Director of Elections

  29. Hi Paul – I checked with Nick Handy on your question posted at 6:36. Here is Nick’s response: “We are using a live database for the “recent registration update”, also being called the “third check.” So, the test we are using is whether the person is a registered voter at the time of the “third check.”

    “By way of history, initiative and referendum gatherers for decades have followed the practice of recruiting signers in all sorts of locations and situations. If a potential signer indicates that he or she is not a registered voter, the petition worker provides a voter registration form on the spot and encourages the signer to both register to vote and to sign the petition. So, the signer will become a registered voter at some later time in the process, after the registration has been turned in and processed by the state or county. This has been the practice for decades on initiative and referenda petitions and is the reason that the state is using a live database as a stop gap measure on this critically close petition.”

    Regarding Dieter’s question on the “happy face,” here is Nick’s reply: “I do not know the circumstances of that situation where a checker was alleged to have put a smiley face by a particular signature.

    “One explanation could be that the checker was very proud of a particularly difficult find. That is, the signature could have been essentially a “needle in a haystack” (see response to Stephen on “needle in the haystack” signatures) and the checker may have worked very hard to find one of 30,000 “Johnsons” or other common name, or otherwise difficult situation. He may have been very proud of a tough find and put a notation like that.

    “We know that observers on both sides are worried about bias in the process given that this is a very tight close count.

    “The Election Division’s perspective is that we have a group of 30 very hard working committed citizens working in a professional and unbiased way under intense observation and pressure to conduct this signature count in the most professional and even-handed way possible.”

  30. Nick Handy says:

    Darryl,
    Good question. You are essentially asking when will we know for sure that a volume is complete.

    Unfortunately, you may not know that until the end of the check.

    That is because we are awaiting some signature images from the counties and the counties are also running a primary election, so they are very busy. Some of these signatures may not come in until the end. When they come in, and if they match, we will go back and adjust those volumes at that time.

    Regarding the “recent signature check”, we are today for the first time adjusting volumes for these recent registrants were were not on the late June database print used in the basic check. We will blog on this and post the data so everyone has a clear picture of this.

    As we have indicated earlier, these “recent signature checks” are running about 12%. That is, of those “not found” in the original check and master check, we are finding about 12% of those in the “recent signature checks” also known as the “third check.” That is becoming a very significant factor in this check.

    Those numbers will show up for the first time in the reports that will come out later in the day and will result in fewer signers who are “not found” and it will also lower the overall “rejection” rate.

    This is a very fluid process that will continue to move around until the end of the check.

    The increasing number of duplicates will tend to drive the rejection rate up while the recent registration check will tend to move the rate down.

    This is an extremely close petition check and every effort is being made to make it as accurate as possible.

    We will continue to provide as much information as we can as this progresses.

    Nick Handy
    Director of Elections

  31. Nick Handy says:

    To Paul Johns at 1:55, we understand your position and arguments there, but that is not, and never has been the position of the Elections Division.

    Your argument is that a petition signer must be a registered voter at the time of signing and we understand the arguments that support this position,very ably cited by you.

    The fact is that for decades petition sponsors have registered voters at the time of signing. These registrations are later submitted to the state and later even put into the database. So, these signers were NOT registered voters at the time of signing.

    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.

    The issue is further complicated by the fact that “date of signing” is not required by state law on the petitions and does not appear on the petitions. So, our office has absolutely no idea when a person signed a petition.

    For petitions where the circulation began in January and the petition is filed in June, we have no idea when a voter signed the petition. It would be impossible to determine whether a voter was a registered voter “at the time the petition was signed.”

    Thus, the practice that has been in effect for many years is that the operative date is the date of the check.

    We understand that this may be reviewed by the courts in this difficult and close petition check.

    But, that has been the longstanding practice in this state and is currently the practice until either changed by the legislature or the courts.

    Thanks for your question. We understand well your arguments.

    Nick Handy
    Director of Elections

  32. Nick,

    I hope there is some way of letting us know to what extent that the third check has been completed.

    If none of the add-backs were included, I would know to add back about 12% of the “missing” category. But if it has been adjusted for some unknown number (an unknown percentage of the missing category) then I don’t know whether to add back 12%, 0%, or some number between.

  33. John Colgan says:

    First of all I want to thank the Secretary of State’s office for their work and make clear that I believe that every effort is being made to perform an honest and accurate count, and none of my comment are meant to imply any intentional misconduct or “skulduggery”, as some have claimed.

    I do have a couple of issues I would like clarification on:

    1. Taking the example from Brian’s 2:41 post, what measures are being taken to ensure that someone has not signed multiple times with slightly different signatures and addresses? If I were to sign once as John Colgan with my registered address, once more as J Colgan with another address, would master checkers potentially look at the second entry, find my registration and credit them both? Or would they find my entry in the voter registration DB somehow marked to note that my registration had already been credited with having signed once and the second signature, despite being with a slightly different name format and address be correctly marked as a duplicate?

    2. While I realize that the additional scrutiny being given only to rejected signatures is standard practice, a full signature check is not standard practice. Given the closeness of this count, and the fact that a spot check showed an error rate of at least 6% on accepted signatures, isn’t a second look at the accepted signatures warranted? I know the referendum backers are making a whole lot of noise about the process allegedly being sped up, but it seems to me that, since the majority of the signatures are looked at only once and accepted, any increase in speed to the overall process would actually benefit them.

  34. I think what some may be getting at is that the longer this process takes the more time they have to try and get signatures registered to vote, even as we speak. So each time you recheck the signatures you are not finding ones that were overlooked, you are finding new registered voters possibly even much later than when the petitions were turned in. It’s one thing to turn in your petitions and voter registrations at the same time at the end of the process when the petitions are due and quite another to continue to register people all the way until November and also demand the SoS office to slow down so you can continue register people after the fact. I suppose you are saying that you will allow this to happen up until the election (maybe even after the election people can register to vote) and you will leave it up to the State Supreme Court to decide what a “legal voter” is according to RCW 29A.72 but I can’t help but sense that something does not smell right since you are not paying attention to the registration dates.

  35. Paul Johns says:

    @Nick Handy: Thanks for your response regarding registration of signers. My personal opinion is the same as yours, but common practice doesn’t necessarily establish legal precedent. I suspect the courts will have to do that. I’d like to see the Legislature clarify this.

    I’m curious what you think about the fact that once a signature is accepted by the initial checker, it is not checked again. What I’m concerned about is that the checkers almost certainly make a small number of human errors accepting signatures that aren’t valid. We know from the special recheck of 222 signatures that that error rate is certainly not zero–and the rate that was found is actually rather high, although that’s “anecdotal” beause the sample was hand-picked. Still, an error rate of even 0.5% would likely be significant for R-71.

    The issue isn’t how many times a particular signature is checked–it’s reducing the known causes of error in order to come up with the most accurate possible count. The process reduces the “valid signatures not counted” error rate, but does NOTHING to reduce the “invalid signatures counted” error rate.

    It seems to me that we’re likely going to have to re-check the signatures initally counted as valid in any case, probably as a result of a court decision.

    In any case, thanks for your many years of dedicated and competent service to the people of Washington.

  36. Nick Handy says:

    Hi Timothy,
    Yes, each time we post the new data on the “recent registration check” also known as the “third check”, we will advise which volumes have been updated. We did that on Friday with the first posting. That showed up in our blog posting that day. I will check to see if there is a way we can note this on the spread sheet that has results.

    Thanks for asking. That is a good point. We know many people are following this check very closely.
    Nick Handy
    Director of Elections

  37. Hi Paul Johns,

    We’ve addressed the issue of accepted signatures quite a bit here. Our office’s view on this is that in the case of approved signatures, the signature checker has located the voter registration record and has compared the signature on the petition sheet with the signature on the voter registration record. These signatures either match or do not match. To recheck all approved signatures would nullify the vast majority of verification work already completed.

    Christina Siderius, Secretary of State’s Office

  38. Bill W, Paul Johns, J Scooter:

    Nick has explained that we count the signature as long as the signer is registered by the time the check takes place.

    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 promote 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.

    Christina Siderius, Secretary of State’s Office

  39. Hi John Colga:

    A voter who signs a petition more than once is only given credit for the first time. It doesn’t matter if this person has used slight variations of his/her name or address on different petitions. There Is only one “You” in the Washington Voter Registration Database – and that’s the person who gets credited for signing the petition.

    In the case of approved signatures, the signature checker has located the voter registration record and has compared the signature on the petition sheet with the signature on the voter registration record. These signatures either match or do not match. To recheck all approved signatures would nullify the vast majority of verification work already completed.

    Thanks for your questions,
    Christina Siderius, Secretary of State’s Office

  40. As of 10/1/2009, the State of Nevada will institute Domestic Partnerships for both gay and straight couples with no age restrictions. Today, if a Washington heterosexual couple flies to Vegas and gets married (even by an Elvis impersonator), the State of Washington honors that marriage due to the Federal constitution binding each state to “Full Faith and Credit”. Beginning in October, let’s say that same straight couple flies to Vegas and gets DP’d (both are under 62 years of age). They return home to Washington State with a license that says “Domestic Partnership”. Does the State of Washington consider them Domestic Partners under Full Faith and Credit?
    http://www.lvrj.com/news/53675137.html

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