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R-71 questions? Dive into our FAQs

by David Ammons | August 13th, 2009

  • r71oneWhat the heck is a “master checker”?
  • Why are election workers checking every single signature submitted for Referendum 71, the “everything-but marriage” law, rather than the more usual random sample?
  • Why are advocates on both sides watching the truly arcane figures on how many duplicate R-71 signatures are being found?
  • The current rejection rate is running between 10 and 11 percent. What’s the dividing line that separates success or failure for R-71 sponsors – and what have the signature checks over the past 20 years been like?

These and other questions are taken up and answered by state Elections Director Nick Handy, an attorney and a part-time graduate school prof who fills you in on the referendum checking process in general and R-71 in specific.

4 Responses to “R-71 questions? Dive into our FAQs”

  1. J Scooter says:

    Thank you for an excellent, detailed description of the signature verification process.

    With all due respect, however, one point that you actually supports the need for –at a minimum — some ‘random’ checking (e.g., 20,000 signatures) of the ‘accepted’ signatures. You mentioned that there are 2 shifts of checkers (7:30AM-3:30PM, and 3:30PM-10PM) — basically people looking at signatures on computer screens for 8 hours in each shift. Then you said:

    “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. In close cases, the checker may request a supervisor or master checker to help with a close call.”

    In fact, as any handwriting expert will attest, there are many, many cases when it is NOT true that “These signatures will either match or do not match”. The checkers may be experienced, and have great integrity, but they are not handwriting experts — and after several hours of reading signatures, can you honestly say that they will never make a mistake when they accept a signature? Further, as you have conceded, there are situations that one can designate as a “close call” — but the initial checker (now tired after hours of work) will decide if any situation is a ‘close call’, and then s/he “MAY request a supervisor or master checker to help”.

    The above process, done by honest hardworking (and tired) people with the best intentions, is absolutely bound to have human errors in ‘accepted’ signatures, most particularly signatures that were initially accepted by the original checker and were NEVER reviewed, or double-checked, by anyone else. Similarly, one cannot seriously say that double-checks of initially-rejected signatures will result in a reversal of a significant number of rejections … and yet argue that double-checks of initially-accepted signatures will NEVER result in ANY reversal of any of the accepted signatures; it simply isn’t credible to make such an argument.

    In light of the above realities, there really isnt any justification for the disparity in double-checking ALL initially-rejected signatures and in refusing to double-check ANY initially-accepted signatures, particularly in refusing to double-check a sampling (20,000?) of accepted signatures to determine if any errors were made in any acceptances.

    Although the role of observers certainly adds an element of fairness to the process, it must also be remembered that there is a significant disparity as well in what information was available to each side’s observers prior to the counting. Please keep in mind the role of the observers, as explained in the blog: They may “convey” to SoS “supervisors” any “concerns” that they have about a decision regarding specific signatures. Imagine two sides each sending a team to a meeting to review certain documents that will be displayed during that meeting — but one side has already seen the documents whereas the other side is prohibited from seeing them until entering the room. Who will do a better review job? In this situation, the pro-R71 side has already seen ALL of the petition signatures — because they submitted them — and has been able to ‘prep’ its observers before any counting began; whereas the anti-R71 side has not seen a single petition signature as the result of the outstanding TRO — and thus has sent in its observers basically with one arm tied behind their backs.

    Even if the TRO was to be dissolved tomorrow by the federal judge (in light of this new information), there would still be an unfairness insofar as NOT A SINGLE ACCEPTED SIGNATURE is apparently double-checked to determine if an error was made in accepting it.

  2. L. Shannon says:

    Just wanted to take a moment to thank David Ammons for his very helpful updates on R-71, and his excellent explanations of the process as it has unfolded, and also Nick Handy for his excellent FAQ on R-71. There have been times when I have disagreed with the office on some policy issues, but I have always deeply respected the role of the S of S and the very high quality and dedication of the people who work there and do a very difficult job with grace and class, even in the heat of very emotional political and policy fights.

    This information and these updates have been excellent and in the finest tradition of the very fine office of S of S. I greatly appreciate it.

    Best, Larry

  3. J Scooter– thanks for yr thoughts. Per an earlier post today, we are spot checking about 200 accepted signatures and 200 rejected signatures, as requested by the respective official observers. I’ll try to get a report on whether either pile moves as a result of the check. I know you and others would like a full or spot check of the accepteds, but i don’t see that happening.

    Regarding yesterday’s query about these issues and about ballot-checker training, the Elections Division has gotten back to me with this:

    “We have training documents we use (in response to J Scooter’s Q #3). The PowerPoint covers more than just signature verification. It refers to initiatives, but the training applies to all ballot measure types. Dave Motz of our senior staff conducts the signature verification portion of the training. He was trained by a Washington State Patrol signature analyst. He uses the two pages scanned into the PDF document attached to this email.

    Regarding #4 – I think we need to remind people that we are under a TRO (temporary restraining order from the federal court forbidding release of information about the names, signatures, addresses, etc., of those who signed R-71). It would be against the law to violate the TRO and we will not do this. Releasing rejected signatures would be a violation of the TRO. Our AAG (assistant attorney general) will defend the Open Public Records Act. We support the Public Records Act. We will respond to request for petition sheets and signatures pursuant to the outcome of the federal case.”

    I don’t know how to attach a link here to the PowerPoint and other materials, but if you want to send me your email address, i can flip them to you. i’m at dammons@secstate.wa.gov.

  4. Larry– thanks very much for the feedback. the process sometimes gets a little messy, but we committed to trying this warts-and-all approach and doing civics education along the way.

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