State still has a lot of election reform to do
December 29, 2008 · Updated 7:52 PM
Recently a Florida newspaper revealed that it had found 30,000 likely felons on the state’s voter rolls, and so informed Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning.
He admitted the information was likely true and said his staff was working hard to remove ineligible felons from the rolls.
Also recently, a KIRO-TV investigative reporter informed Washington’s Secretary of State that he had found 24,000 likely felons on this state’s vote rolls, based on the felon database maintained by Washington’s Department of Corrections.
Sam Reed’s response? Instead of digging into the information to see if any felons were actually still on the rolls, he immediately attacked the veracity of the reporter’s story, calling his information “unreliable.”
The KIRO reporter came to us and asked if we would comment on the story.
We said yes because, after examining the details, we were convinced of the truth of the story, and because we saw it as another example of a disturbing habit Reed has shown of taking the easy road when it comes to election security.
After the 2004 gubernatorial race, a Chelan County judge determined that more than 1,300 felons had voted illegally in the election, all of whom were quickly removed from the voter rolls in the month following the court decision.
Then in 2006 the Secretary of State created a new statewide voter database in order to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, and as required by state law, started searching it for ineligible voters, including felons.
Reed’s staff used a variety of databases for this search, including records from the State Patrol, the Department of Corrections, the Administrator of the Courts and county clerks.
But in early 2006, a trial court ruled that the Washington law which prevented felons from voting until they had completed their entire sentence was unconstitutional: Those who had done everything except pay restitution could vote.
That upset the applecart for Reed’s felon-voter search, which he quickly restricted to looking only for felons who were still under the custody of the Department of Corrections (i.e. in prison, on parole or on probation).
About a year later, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision and upheld the state law.
During that period, the Legislature considered a bill to restore felon’s rights automatically after they got out of prison, a bill Secretary Reed supported.
The bill was defeated. So by August 2007, the status quo had been restored: Both the Legislature and the courts had rejected a change in the felon voter law, and Reed could go back to a broad search for felon voters.
But he decided that would be too hard.
The felon databases had errors, the search would take a lot of work and it would be easier to just act as though the courts had ruled the other way and search only for felons under the active control of the Department of Corrections.
So his staff wrote their software search program to ignore automatically anyone on the voter rolls who had committed a felony and finished their prison sentence/probation prior to 2006.
That brings us to the KIRO story, in which the reporter took a look at all felons, not just the post-2006 ones, and found 24,000 active on the voter roll (dwarfing the 11,000 Reed has removed since 2006).
Not all of those are ineligible to vote, as some have had their rights restored, but even Reed’s staff admits that almost half are probably ineligible felons.
But he continues to refuse to address them because the data is “unreliable,” and therefore would require some hard work to verify.
But whoever said keeping elections clean was easy?
We don’t expect the voter rolls to be perfect — they never will be.
But we do expect the Secretary of State to do everything he can to remove ineligible voters from the rolls when he finds out about them.
That’s all we ask. Just start working on the list. Follow the law.
Jonathan Bechtle is legal counsel for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.