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R-71 signature check nears halfway point

by David Ammons | August 17th, 2009

halfwaycheckersThe signature check for Washington’s Referendum 71 is near the halfway mark, with over 65,000 petition signatures now tallied .

According to a fresh post at the end of the day shift Monday, election crews and master checkers have completed their work on about 289 of the 623 petition batches – bound volumes of 15 petitions, each bearing between 1 and 20 signatures.

The total now checked, 65,531, is more than 7,000 above the Friday evening report, and approaches halfway to the full check of the 137,689 signatures that R-71 sponsors submitted on July 25. Sponsors are trying to force a statewide vote on the Legislature’s new “everything but marriage act,” Senate Bill 5688, that gives state-registered domestic partners the same state rights and responsibilities that married couples have.

The new tally shows 58,306 signatures accepted – they need 120,577 valid Washington voter signatures to qualify – and 7,225 rejected (6,165 because the person wasn’t found on the state voter database, 24 where a digital signature is needed from the voter’s home county in order to compare with the signature on the petition, 566 where the signer’s signature did not match the one on file, and 470 duplicates.)

Overall, the error rate is currently 11.03 percent, considerably lower than the 20-year average of about 18.5 percent, and still below the maximum error rate the sponsors can absorb, about 12.4 percent.  Some have speculated that the measure is headed to the ballot, but the state Elections Division continues to withhold a conclusion.  All signatures are being checked, using double shifts, rather than random sampling, since the sponsors’ pad is so small.

10 Responses to “R-71 signature check nears halfway point”

  1. Susan Blakefield says:

    Mr. Ammons:

    Could you please report on the status of the master check of the 200 signatures previously accepted by junior checkers?

    I note that based on the current status of the review, and the trend of a gradually increasing error rate, R71 likely will wind up qualifying (if at all) by one percentage point or less. Accordingly, if you determine that only 1 or 2 of the 200 accepted names shift to the reject column (i.e., .5% or 1% of the total, respectively) then that should indicate that a complete master check is in order.

  2. Susan Blakefield says:

    Sorry for the second post, but I had a second question.

    I understand that your office is working diligently to finish the job by the end of the month. I also understand that everyone is busy. However, the 200 names that will be master-checked deserve the same careful, deliberate attention that the first batch of rejected names received when they were master-checked. This sample master check should not be done in a more abbreviated or expedited fashion than the first set of names that were master checked. This is especially important since this is only a very small sample, and you are trying to determine from that very small sample if master checking could be material to the outcome of the review process.

    I would appreciate it if you would confirm that the 200 names will receive the full “master check” treatment and will not be rushed or abbreviated.

  3. Are the petitions a random mix, or are they being done by County?

  4. Randy and Susan– i am checking on your questions — and you can be assured that the checking will be done with the same diligence and care of the first checks.

  5. J Scooter says:

    Susan B: Double-checking 200 ‘initially accepted’ signatures will hardly tell anything because the sample is tiny (00.14% — about 1/10th of one-percent).

    For example, the number of disqualified signatures due to duplication is now about 0.72% (of the approximately 70,000 counted so far). Therefore, if one were to check for the number of signatures disqualified for duplication in volumes 192 (297 signatures submitted), 177 (282 signatures submitted) and 152 (300 signatures submitted), one would expect to find 1 or 2 signatures disqualified for duplication among these approximately 900 signatures — yet there were ZERO signatures disqualified for duplication in these 3 volumes. However, one could not reasonably conclude that because there were ZERO duplicates in these 900 signatures, therefore there are no duplicates among all of the submitted signatures (about 138,000). The same analysis could be made in regard to signatures for which there are other potential grounds for disqualification — e.g., no match, or the voter isn’t registered, etc.

    In the above example of checking 900 signatures on 3 petitions and focusing only on the disqualification for ‘duplicates’, we are dealing with such small numbers — checking only 1/10 of one percent (900) of all 138,000 signatures, and an overall proven duplicate rate of about 1% (based on all 138,000 signatures) — that the result of checking only 900 signatures is meaningless.

    The SoS should be commended for double-checking some initially-accepted signatures — but the sampling has to be at least several thousand signatures, not 200. Otherwise, it is an exercise that really proves nothing.

  6. What provisions are there for handling those signatures that were collected under what appeared to be fraudlent? I witnessed lots of signatures being collected in places where the signer was told the petition was about something that completely misrepresented what it was actually about, to push the person to sign. I also watched several people using major fear tacticts to get seniors to sign, again telling them totally bogus things about what the petition was for, and that if they didn’t sign this petition, they would loose their rights to be able to vote (in general, regardless of what the issue is) in the future, which was a total misrepresentation!

  7. Susan Blakefield says:

    J Scooter:

    I completely agree with you that 200 is not an adequate sample for a body of accepted names that is now nearly 60,000. The SoS should be master checking a sample of something like 2000 or 3000.

    But 200 is all they have agreed to do. Even though it is not an adequate sample, given that this is all we are going to get, I wanted to make clear that even a 1-signature shift out of the 200 is going to signal a need for a broader master check.

  8. Judy — thanks for your question. Neither the Secretary of State nor the Attorney General is authorized to watchdog the petition circulation and whatever claims the solicitor may be making or whatever claims may be made on the petition document itself. As we have said many times in this space, it is truly a question of “caveat emptor” and the potential signer needs to be careful about signing and either read the text or study up on it before signing. Campaign speech has been declared protected free speech and the courts won’t even throw out campaign materials with obvious fabrications or lies.

    The important legally required elements of the petition are the relevant parts as far as the I&R process is concerned — the ballot title and description provided by the AG and subject to court review; the spaces for 1 to 20 people to sign, and the full and complete text of the initiative or the legislation being referred. If there are instances of harassment or assault of people gathering signatures or potential signers, that is a potential violation of state law against intimidation and can be investigated and prosecuted locally.

  9. Randy — it was a random mix.

    Susan and J Scooter– Elections Division is preparing a report on how the checks went, and expected to have something i can share on Wednesday.

  10. My husband and I want to thank the crew for taking the time to count the R-71 signatures. We agree and urge you not to be pressured by anyone to hurry. To serve the best interest of all voters, please continue counting them slowly to insure 100% accuracy.

    With appreciation,

    Mr. and Mrs. Lehinger

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