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Putting a price on voting is a risky move

Sun., March 4, 2007, midnight

More information surfaced last week on those questionable voter registration forms being investigated in King County. A spokesman for the organization that turned them in says that, yes, temporary workers were paid to register voters.

Alex King of Washington Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now said the temps were paid by the hour, not by the registration form. Most of them were new workers, and they didn’t have a quota of registrations to turn in, he said.

As mentioned in last week’s Spin Control, King County elections officials and prosecutors are looking at the possibility that many of the forms in a box of registrations sent in by ACORN were frauds, filled out with phony names and bad phone numbers or addresses.

The sign-up crew that collected them was run out of Tacoma, King said, adding that ACORN is “happy to work with” local officials. They are also doing their own checks of what happened, because fraudulent voter registration is “counterproductive to what we’re trying to do.”

Not that anyone asked, but here are some things investigators might want to look at:

“Why was a crew out of Tacoma turning in so many registrations in King County?

“Does the handwriting on any of the registrations ACORN sent to Pierce County match the questionable forms in King County? The Pierce County registrations were not set aside because of a problem meeting a deadline and presumably were put on the books.

“Did anyone vote using those Pierce County registrations? That would help answer the question of whether the system has proper safeguards, as elections officials say, or it doesn’t, as some of the critics contend.

“Why should people be paid to register voters? People who want to register have plenty of opportunities to do it on their own. People who have to be pestered into it by mercenaries aren’t likely to be conscientious voters.

Catching up

City Councilman and mayor-hopeful Al French has sent in the reports that he neglected to file at the end of his 2005 campaign.

French was caught by surprise at last month’s announcement for mayor when asked why he hadn’t filed the post-election paperwork to close out that previous run for council. Turns out his treasurer was waiting for some receipts to come in after the election, then forgot about it.

That meant voters never saw the source of about $2,550 worth of contributions, the largest being a $1,000 check from Avista. Or that French was writing off nearly $3,500 in loans he had made to his campaign, rather than looking for ways to get them repaid.

It wasn’t a big-money campaign. Contributions topped out at just under $20,500 and expenses just under $17,900. But state disclosure laws apply equally to a candidate who spends $5,000 as one who spends $5 million. One of those laws says candidates must file a report after their election.

Whether that settles it for the state Public Disclosure Commission remains to be seen.

Hounding huckleberries

Rep. Joel Kretz has his outdoor cause célèbre for the session, and it’s not as cute as last year. But it is tastier.

Last year the Wayconda Republican made it his personal mission to allow folks with streams to adopt beavers. He got a bill passed, but the governor vetoed it.

This year, he’s trying to stick up for huckleberry pickers.

Legislation cooking in both chambers would make it illegal to pick or possess more than 3 gallons of huckleberries without obtaining a state permit. That’s the same kind of permit a person needs to take more than five Christmas trees, 5 gallons of edible mushrooms or 5 pounds of evergreen boughs from the forests. Get caught with any of those in your vehicle or home and it’s a gross misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of $1,000 and a year in jail.

It’s unclear if anyone has ever done hard time for possession of too many Christmas trees. But the law is on the books as a way of protecting forest lands from over-harvesting.

Kretz is against adding huckleberries to the restrictions, saying it conjures up images of hauling off in cuffs the little old ladies who bake huckleberry pies for the annual auction that keeps the Wayconda Community Hall open. These pies are apparently dang good – Kretz says they can go at auction for more than $100.

He suggested simply outlawing the rakes that some commercial pickers use, which can damage bushes. The Senate has a similar bill, although its latest version says anyone picking less than 10 gallons of huckleberries on private property doesn’t need a permit.

What isn’t clear, though, is how anyone can walk off the mountain with 3 gallons of huckleberries, let alone 10. Don’t the kids always eat all the berries they pick and snitch half of what’s in the adults’ buckets?


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