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Guest Editorial

Don't water down our right to vote

SEN. JIM HONEYFORD

One of the most important rights our U.S. citizens enjoy is the fundamental right to vote. New immigrants work for months -and sometimes years-to earn citizenship and the right to vote. U.S. soldiers travel thousands of miles from home and endure severe hardships to protect our rights to a free election.

Yet the 2004 governor's election revealed to us the ugly flaws in our elections process, leaving everyone wondering, "Does my vote really count?"

In two separate counts, Dino Rossi received enough votes to be declared governor. Unfortunately, the second-and last-recount resulted in a 129-vote victory for Christine Gregoire. What happened? The answer to this question brings about a whole new set of questions and a blueprint for election reform in our state.

The questions started Nov. 12, 2004, when King County Superior Court Judge Dean Lum released the names of 929 provisional ballot voters whose ballots were rejected because of missing or mismatched signatures. State Democratic officials then turned their operatives loose to knock on doors and collect signatures from Gregoire voters.

Questions one & two: Should the names of people who voted be made public and should party operatives be allowed to contact them after the election to correct errors they might have made in their voting?

The answer to these questions should be no. A fundamental principle in voting is the right to cast a private vote. When party operatives are allowed to mine votes from a list provided by the county, the right to privacy is shattered. Senate Republicans plan to introduce a bill to prevent this.

After the second recount was completed, the questions really started coming. On Jan. 4, 2005, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported 8,500 more votes were cast than voters on the rolls. The number has fluctuated, but King County officials reported that at least in their county, they have no way of reconciling because they are constantly updating their voter rolls.

On Jan. 5, 2005, King County admitted that about 350 provisional ballots were fed directly into voting machines, where they blended with regular ballots before officials could determine whether or not they were valid.

On Jan. 7, 2005, the Seattle P-I reported ballots were cast for at least eight people who were deceased. On Jan. 8, 2005, the Tacoma News Tribune reported that at least eight confirmed felons voted before having their voting rights restored. Almost every day, we learn more. Question three: Shouldn't every vote have a legal voter?

One way to ensure that every vote has a legal voter is to require all Washingtonians to re-register to vote. That way, people who have passed away, people who have moved away and other ineligible voters will be purged from the rolls. Another way to prevent illegal ballots from being counted is to require that provisional ballots statewide be a distinctly different color than other ballots so if they "accidentally" get mixed with other ballots before being verified, they are easy to identify.

Past court cases have found failure to prevent invalid votes from watering down the voting pool is just as bad as denying people their right to vote. While we can pass reforms to address these problems in the future, many believe it's important to get answers to the problems in the 2004 governor's election before we can really get behind our new governor and trust in that governor's legitimacy.

Last week, I voted with 60 of my legislative colleagues to delay certification of the 2004 governor's election so the courts could review the facts and rule on the legitimacy of this election. I believe that we must answer these questions for all our citizens.

Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) represents Central Washington's 15th Legislative District.

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