One of the election “reforms” the Washington state GOP has aggressively proposed is eliminating the process of ballot “duplication”, through which ballots that could not otherwise be read by the vote tabulating machines are manually copied to register the clear intent of voters.
“This whole process makes us very nervous,” [State GOP chair] Chris Vance says … “You’ve got human beings making judgments and human beings touching the ballots. It just leads to mischief. … We could say, ‘Let the machines count the ballots and that’s it.’ ”
Yeah… well… according to an article in today’s Seattle Times, calming Vance’s nerves would have required disenfranchising 8.3% of King County voters in November’s general election, and nearly 113,000 voters in the state’s nine largest counties.
There’s a reason the GOP’s early claims last year of a ballot duplication scandal were quietly dropped during Dino Rossi’s ensuing election contest: there is no scandal. WA is a “voter intent” state, and that means officials must do what they can to count a ballot if the voter’s intent can be discerned. Ballot duplication is a transparent, well-documented process performed in every county in the state.
“The purpose of an election is to discern the will of the majority,” says Dean Logan, King County’s elections director. “It’s not to determine whether voters can follow directions.
“Are we going to disenfranchise someone because they used the wrong pen?”
[Secretary of State Sam] Reed, a Republican, agrees. “To deny somebody the right to have their vote counted because they made a mistake is not something we want to do,” he says. Many of those voters are elderly or disabled, Reed adds.
What types of ballots require duplication? Well, some are damaged in the mail, and others are those where voters corrected a mistake, as instructed, by drawing an X through the oval they already filled in, then filling in the right one. But the vast majority are simply ballots where voters used the wrong color pen, or just didn’t follow instructions… circling, checking, or putting X’s through ovals instead of filling them… or using some other creative ballot marking method. On the vast majority of these ballots the voter’s intent is clear and unmistakable… the handful remaining go to the canvassing board for final determination.
So why would Vance and the Republicans want to disenfranchise people who simply make mistakes? Because a statistically significant majority of these ballots come from the very old and the very young, the very poor and the least educated, and of course, first time voters… demographic groups all of which lean Democratic. This is why Democrats, across jurisdictions, tend to pick up votes during recounts, when more care is given towards counting all ballots, and not merely those the machine happens to read on the first pass.
So let’s be honest. Republicans know that if not for ballot duplication, Dino Rossi would likely be our governor, and it would be Slade Gorton running for reelection next year, not Sen. Maria Cantwell. Nearly all of the electoral “reforms” the Republicans have pushed have been naked efforts to achieve a partisan advantage. The harder they can make it for somebody to register to vote, to cast their ballot, or to have their ballot properly tabulated, the easier it is for Republicans to win close elections. The voters who are most likely to be disenfranchised by these “reforms” vote disproportionately for Democrats. Out of touch with the mainstream of voters in WA state, and unwilling to match their agenda to the wants and needs of the majority of the people, the GOP has instead chosen a strategy of shrinking the voter pool to more closely match the demographics of their base.
Had all the Republican “reforms” been in place during 2004, over a quarter of a million eligible voters would have been disenfranchised statewide. That is the GOP strategy for seizing power in WA state, and nationwide. And that is a strategy that Democrats must make their number one priority to fight.