Edmonds resident Kari Knowles said she was surprised when two people knocked on her door Saturday afternoon, Nov. 13, with information regarding the status of her Nov. 2 election ballot.
“They said they were from Concerned Citizens of Edmonds checking to make sure that everybody’s ballot counted, and said my ballot was not counted,” Knowles recalled, adding that the man and woman had a folder containing what appeared to be a list of names, and they were also carrying flyers with information about Edmonds City Council Position 2 candidate Janelle Cass.
Knowles said the county had already notified her via mail that her ballot signature didn’t appear to match what they had on file, and she had sent in a county-supplied form verifying that it was indeed hers. So her reply when the two people visited her home to enquire about her ballot status was: ‘What business is it of yours?’” After the male visitor replied, ‘It’s not,” she shut the door.
Knowles was one of three residents we spoke with who reported being contacted by volunteers regarding errors in their ballots — and all of them mentioned those volunteers had a connection to the Cass campaign. While questions have been raised on social media regarding the legality of this type of outreach, the process — known as ballot signature curing — is legal under state law, said Snohomish County Auditor Garth Fell.
During each election cycle, county officials challenge a small percentage of ballot envelopes “because the signature on the envelope does not match what we have on file for the voter or the voter forgot to sign the signature envelope,” Fell explained. “Within a day of reviewing and applying this challenge to the voter’s record, Snohomish County mails a letter to the impacted voter notifying them of the challenge and how they can cure the challenge and ensure their ballot is counted.”
The county includes a form for the voter to complete and a postage-paid return envelope. They also reach out to voters with signature challenges through email and by phone prior to certifying the election. (Voters can see the status of their ballot by visiting www.votewa.gov.)
Under state law, campaigns have access to the names of voters whose ballots have been initially challenged, Fell said. This information includes the voter’s name, the voter’s registration address and the type of challenge that has placed on the record (it hasn’t been signed or the signature does not match, for example). The county does not provide phone numbers or email addresses of voters. It also does not provide nor maintain any record on how an individual voter voted in a race.
In an experience similar to what happened to Kari Knowles, an Edmonds man recalled a woman knocking on his door Nov. 8, noting his name was on the list of those voters whose ballots had signature issues. The man, who did not want his name used, said he had forgotten to sign his ballot envelope before mailing. Like Knowles, he had received a letter from the county indicating there was a problem.
The woman who came to his door stated, “it’s a tight race and every vote counts,” he recalled. “She asked that I sign it (my ballot) and get it back to the county, and offered to take it herself. This seemed a little odd, so I told her I would just mail it myself. She said thanks and left.”
In close races, Fell said, “we have historically seen campaigns take the challenge information and use it to reach out to supporters to remind them to cure their challenge. We encourage campaigns to refer voters to the information they have already received from the county. However it is acceptable for campaigns to provide a blank form and assist voters in returning their forms to the county.”
Political campaigns have access to those blank forms through the Washington Secretary of State’s website and can offer those to voters to fill out, Fell added.
Position 2 candidate Janelle Cass confirmed that volunteers from her campaign have been doing the outreach that has been reported by Edmonds voters. (Cass trails opponent Will Chen by 135 votes in the latest tally released by the county elections office Monday. The next count will be released Friday, Nov. 19)
“It is my understanding that a lot of people do not respond to the auditor’s outreach regarding their outstanding signature issues,” Cass said. “Many feel the election is over once the bulk of results are posted. Candidates in close elections want to see those votes added to the tally. Volunteers help voters fix their signature issue so that their ballots can be counted. Offering a printed-out form and pre-addressed, stamped envelope increases the likelihood that that a voter will submit their affidavit to validate their ballot,” she said. “I want to thank Edmonds and these volunteers for their support and dedication to the election process.”
Addressing why those volunteers carried Cass campaign materials, Cass described them as “leftover campaign cards with my contact information should anyone want to reach out with questions or concerns.”
In another case reported to My Edmonds News, Edmonds resident Meghan Campbell spoke by phone to a family friend, another Cass campaign volunteer, who said he was following up because her signature did not match official voting records. He also inquired about whom she voted for, Campbell said.
“I remember thinking that any comment regarding my vote was very inappropriate,” Campbell said.
While it’s not illegal for a person or a campaign to ask a voter how they voted, “the voter is under no obligation to share this information,” Fell said.
Fell also stressed that the county “never sends the ballot and envelope back to the voter to cure – we only provide the form to cure an issue. Once the ballot is returned, it remains in our possession. The only action a voter can take is to provide a form to resolve their challenge.
“If a voter who has not previously voted submits a ballot now, the ballot will be designated too late to count,” he added.
Fell said that voters have to resolve signature issues and ensure their ballot can be counted before the county certifies the election results on Nov.23.
— By Teresa Wippel