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GOP felon-voter list inspires range of reactions statewide

By David Postman    Seattle Times   27 March 2005

Skagit County Auditor Norma Hickock-Brummett was so sure her voter-registration list was clean, she was shocked to hear Republicans claim a felon had voted in her county.

She put a staff member on the case and found the lone suspect had been convicted of a misdemeanor, not a felony, and therefore had retained the right to vote.

Skagit's slate was clean.

That was one of the easier cases for officials dealing with allegations of felons voting. Skagit and Walla Walla counties had only one voter each on the Republican list. King County has 912.

The list of more than 1,000 alleged felon voters, compiled by attorneys for Dino Rossi, is a central piece of evidence in Rossi's legal challenge to last November's election. It will be argued over in some detail in the lawsuit pending in Chelan County Superior Court.

Democrat Christine Gregoire won the election for governor after losing two counts but winning a final hand recount by 129 votes. Republicans hope to prove there were far more illegal votes than that margin of victory, which they say would be cause to overturn the election.

The Republicans did not give their list of alleged felon voters to county officials, but most of the auditors have gotten copies from local news organizations.

There is no formal, or mandated, role for county election officials in reviewing Republican evidence. But the list is the latest turn in an election that keeps their attention even now, nearly five months after Election Day.

Some counties launched investigations after seeing the allegations. But the list has created tension among officials of one county, angered a small-town prosecutor feeling victimized by King County and frustrated one auditor who says the allegations are backed with little detail. One sheriff said he suspects widespread vote fraud, while in another county, officials have disproved most of the alleged illegal activity.

In some cases, the counties' work has become part of the official record in Rossi's lawsuit claiming Gregoire should be removed from office.

In court papers filed last week, Democrats said Whatcom County's investigation showed a "75 percent error rate" in the Republican felon list.

Whatcom appears to be one of the few counties that has completed a thorough review of the list.

According to the Republicans, the county had 13 illegal votes cast by felons. But county Auditor Shirley Forslof said a review by the court clerk found many errors:

Four of the voters in question were convicted of felonies but had their voting rights restored. One was entitled to vote because the conviction was for a gross misdemeanor, not a felony. One was free to vote because the felony case had been dismissed. Three on the list didn't vote in the November election, contrary to what the Republicans had said.

The remaining four voters, Forslof said, appear to have voted illegally, and their names have been forwarded to the county prosecutor.

The list of suspects looks more solid in another corner of the state. Clark County Chief Prosecuting Attorney Curt Wyrick said 31 of the 33 people on the list there appear to be felons who voted illegally. One of the others had voting rights restored, and one had been convicted of a misdemeanor.

Other problems with the Republicans' evidence have been uncovered. The felon list includes the names of people convicted as juveniles and whose voting rights were never extinguished. That could mean hundreds of names will be removed from the list. Republicans are reviewing the cases to check for juveniles.

"It's really inconsistent information. But 1,100 felons voting makes a great headline," said Yakima County Auditor Corky Mattingly.

She said that earlier this year, the county reviewed a list of 15 alleged felon voters compiled by Rossi backers but not submitted to the court. She said four of those 15 appeared to have voted improperly.

Republicans now say 31 felons voted illegally in Yakima County. Mattingly said she's seen the list of names, but there are no birth dates or criminal case numbers, which makes the list difficult to research.

In Lewis County, Prosecutor Jeremy Randolph said six of the seven names on the list there appear to be felons who voted. But more investigation is needed. That, he said, will have to wait until a detective completes work on what Randolph called "bloodier situations."

He's less than enthusiastic about the voter-fraud issue. He thinks that well-publicized problems in King County have caused a lot of work for smaller counties as Republicans look for illegal votes.

"As a citizen of this state, as well as a Republican, I think we ought to all sue King County," he said.

Just to the north is likely the state's most enthusiastic hunter of felon voters.

Thurston County Sheriff Gary Edwards began investigating before Republicans submitted their list to the court.

He got started with a call from the Building Industry Association of Washington, a conservative homebuilders group that has been researching felon voters to help Rossi.

"I truly believe there is a lot of voter fraud the public is not aware of," Edwards said.

He looked at dozens of names and was convinced that many voted illegally, perhaps as many as 100. He forwarded one name to the prosecutor for criminal charges in a case where he thinks criminal intent can be proved.

"The way I look at this, I'm like the policeman on the freeway," Edwards said. "Everybody is going 80 and the speed limit is 70. I'm trying to keep it under control and I've got to stop somebody. I'm a realist. I know I can't stop them all. But I've got to do something."

Thurston County isn't investigating the Republican list because he thinks the county already did a thorough review.

Edwards said the more he learns about elections, the more he becomes convinced there is widespread fraud: "truly fraudulent voters who maybe voted for their deceased mother-in-law or got seven ballots sent to friends' locations because they are really enthused about affecting the outcome of this election."

He added, "I know Christine Gregoire. She is not leading some kind of conspiracy to make this thing go her way. She is an honorable person.

"But I do think there are people out there that probably believe in their party, their candidate so much they are willing to fudge."

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