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WA can’t use Homeland Security records to check voter lists

OLYMPIA — Washington can't use immigrant registration records from the U.S. Homeland Security Department to verify names on its voter rolls, state elections officials said today.

The reason: The state doesn't have a system that requires proof of legal residence before issuing a driver's license, which is necessary to use the federal system.

Secretary of State Sam Reed requested access to the federal system in July as a way of checking the accuracy of the state's voter rolls. But to use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program, which is designed to determine whether a person qualifies for different social and medical programs, the state would need to issue some sort of identification card that checks for legal immigration status.

The state doesn't check for legal residency when issuing driver's license or an official ID card. Several proposals in recent legislative sessions have been died after critics said it would prevent drivers who are in the country illegally from proving they can drive by taking the driver's test, and obtaining insurance.

Reed said he was disappointed the state can't use the federal system to check its voter rolls and is dropping the effort for the 2012 election. He urged the Legislature to require applicants for a driver's license of ID card to show proof of legal residency.

Among those critical of the plan was the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which met with state elections officials this summer in an effort to get them to drop the plan. Shankar Naryan of the ACLU, said today Reed made the right decision in dropping plans to try to find illegal immigrants on the voter rolls.

"It's a solution in search of a problem," Naryan said. "I'm not aware of anyone convicted of voting as a non-citizen in Washington."

Illegal immigrants are unlikely to risk voting illegally, he said. It's a felony, and if they are caught, they'd be jailed or deported. State elections officials should spend money instead on making sure people who are eligible register and vote.

Reed said the state is dedicated to keeping illegal people off the rolls and registering people who are legal.

Local notes on GOP convention

UPDATE: U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, has been given an expanded role at the Republican National Convention.


The Republican National Convention is in Tampa this week, if Hurricane Isaac doesn’t blow the GOP into the next county. They just released a revised schedule, because Monday is going to be a quick opening and then folks will mostly hunker down.

That moves the speech by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District, to Tuesday. She still has a prime-time speaking gig, at least on the East Coast, sometime between 7 and 8 p.m. The original speech was going to go 7 minutes, her staff said. We'll see if she has to cut back.
State Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who would like to be U.S. Sen. Baumgartner, R-Wash., also will be in Tampa. No speaking slot, but his campaign says he’ll be available for interviews through Tuesday. Not sure if the national press corps knows to use a five-second delay on live broadcasts, in case they need to bleep out anything.
Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed and his brother Roger Reed, a Spokane attorney, are both Romney delegates to the convention. Sam is an avid Coug, so look for WSU colors during shots of the state delegation.


U.S. Supreme Court asked to overturn state primary

OLYMPIA — The state's Democratic and Libertarian parties are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to do what lower courts have refused: Throw out the state's Top Two primary system.

The two parties have asked the nation's top court to hear arguments on the state's primary system, which has all candidates for all offices on a single ballot and lists candidates by the party they say they "prefer". The two candidates receiving the most votes advance to the general election, regardless of party preference.

The Supreme Court would be the last stop in a long battle the parties have waged over the way Washington conducts its primaries. For more than a half-century, Washington operated what was known as a blanket primary, where all candidates for all offices appeared on a single ballot, and voters could select on candidate from any party for each office. When those ballots were tallied, the Democrat and Republican candidate for each office advanced to the general election, as did minor party candidates and independents who crossed a threshhold for a minimum number of votes.

Washington voters don't register by party, and the major parties argued that meant people who weren't their members were choosing their nominees. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a similar law in California for violating constitutional protections of freedom of association, and the Washington parties won a court challenge to their state's law in 2003. Voters approved an initiative for the Top 2 primary, which was also challenged in court, and while the court case was pending, primaries in which voters had to choose a Democratic or Republican ballot or nonpartisan ballot if there were nonpartisan races or measures in the same election.

Eventually the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 the Top 2 primary was, on its face, constitutional. But it left open the possibility that it could be administered in a way that was unconstitutional. The parties challenged the way the primary ballot identifies a candidate's party preference, arguing they don't have an adequate way of objecting to a candidate who claims to be associated with them, and that voters might be confused that listing of party preference indicates the candidate is a member of the party.

That challenge failed with a U.S. District Court judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ballot contains a disclaimer that a candidate's preference does not necessarily have the support of that party, and the appeals court said that was enough. The parties are saying, however, there wasn't any evidence in front of the appeals court to show "that voters read or understand the disclaimer or that doing so would affect voter perceptions of the candidate-party association."

Secretary of State Sam Reed defended the Top 2 primary as a way for state residents to vote for the person, not the party label. "I hope the Supreme Court will decline to take the case, and will acknowledge that we followed to court's roadmap for how to conduct the primary as a nonpartisan, winnow election that puts the voter in the driver's seat."

The state Republican Party had been involved in the previous court cases, but is not part of the latest effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, which is a request for a writ of certiorari.


State turnout for Nov. 8: 53 percent

OLYMPIA — Although Spokane County has some recounting to do, state officials certified the election results Monday for the Nov. 8 election.

Anyone paying any attention knows how things came out: Initiative 1183, that gets the state out of the liquor business, passed big time. I-1163, requiring training and background checks for home health care workers, passed even bigger time. I-1125, which put new limits on tolls for roads and bridges, failed. And a bunch of folks in cities and towns and districts all over the state got elected to various offices.

So what's the news here? The official state turnout — or turn in, considering the state conducts the entire ballot by mail so no one has to "turn out'' to a poll site — was 52.95 percent. That's about 6 percentage points higher than Secretary of State Sam Reed, the state's top elections official, predicted before the election.

Reed said the interest on the initiatives, and record spending on the liquor proposal raised the visibility of the issue and drove more turnout.

Highest turnout was 70 percent in San Juan County. Garfield, Lincoln and Pend Oreille counties were above 60 percent, and Spokane County came in at 56.5 percent.

And in case you're wondering, recounts don't effect turnout. Those ballots are already part of the total, whether they were marked for one candidate or the other…or neither.

Reed: Don’t dilly-dally. Get your ballots in

OLYMPIA — Secretary of State Sam Reed is trying to goose voter interest a bit by suggesting that folks shouldn't wait until the last minute to cast their ballots.

In a press release Friday, Reed urged voters not to miss wait until the "fast-approaching deadline" but to "get their ballots in so they are definitely counted.

At the same time, he acknowledges that turnout in an off-year primary such as this is "normally tepid." Some voters don't even have a primary — including everyone in Franklin and Wahkiakum counties.

For the record, the deadline is 8 p.m. Tuesday for your ballot envelope to be postmarked, or to be dropped in a deposit box. It is worth noting that if you're going to mail your ballot on Tuesday, you probably should take it to the post office to make sure it gets postmarked in time.

For a list of Spokane County drop box locations, click here to go inside the blog.


Sam Reed to retire after 2012

Sam Reed says he won't run for re-election at a press conference today.

OLYMPIA — Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed is calling it quits after three terms in that office and more than 34 as an elected official.

Reed, a Spokane  native and a leader in the moderate wing of the state Republican Party, said today he will retire at the end of  his term rather than seek re-election in 2012 as the state's chief elections officer, archivist and business registrar.

During his term, he saw the state go from poll-site balloting to vote-by-mail elections and oversaw the recount of the 2004 gubernatorial race, one of the closest statewide contests in U.S. history, which Democrat Chris Gregoire won after two recounts with a margin of 133 votes out of more than 2.8 million ballots cast.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Supremes: Human Life would have to reveal donors

OLYMPIA – The U.S. Supreme Court answered once and for all Tuesday whether a conservative group can hide the names of donors to a campaign against an assisted suicide initiative.

It can’t.

The court refused to hear an appeal of lower courts’ rulings against Human Life of Washington, which sought an injunction against the state’s Public Disclosure Commission for a planned 2008 campaign against assisted suicide. (Note: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the group refused to report donors and the PDC found it in violation of disclosure laws.)

It was the second time in eight months the nation’s highest court upheld state disclosure laws being challenged by faith-based groups. In both cases the groups were defended by an attorney who challenges election laws around the country.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here.

Gregoire budget would dump presidential primary in 2012

OLYMPIA — One casualties of the state’s revenue gap in today’s budget proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire would be Washington’s 2012 presidential preference primary.

The state estimates it would save about $10 million by scrapping the primary, which was mandated by voters in a 1989 initiative but has met with limited acceptance from the state’s two major political parties.

Democrats essentially ignore the results of the primary, choosing all of convention delegates through the precinct caucus through state convention system. Republicans have used varying formulas to award at least part of their delegates from the results of the primary and the rest from the caucuses. In 2008, the split was about half and half.

Along with saving money for a statewide mail-in ballot, it would also save the quadrennial jockeying to get a primary date that’s close enough to the beginning of the process that there’s still some doubt about the parties’  nominees, but not so close that Washington is clumped in with a bunch of states and dwarfed by them.

Washington is also the only state that has both a primary and caucuses and two different systems by the parties for apportioning presidential delegates.

State GOP Chairman Luke Esser, while giving Gregoire some credit for an overall budget that “is a step in the right direction toward fiscally responsible government,” was critical of cutting the primary, saying it contradicts the will of the people expressed in the initiative.

“And it disenfranchises military voters serving overseas and many other voters. The voice of the brave members of the armed forces fighting for freedom in faraway lands will be silenced because they can’t attend a preinct caucuses, as will the voices of those who must work during the caucus, who are home-ridden or tending sick children,” Esser said.

Probably an easy call for Gregoire, he added, because Democrats have always ignored the primary results.

But Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican, said he reluctantly agreed with Gregoire the state can’t afford a primary in 2012 under current conditions. Reed said he hoped it would be back in 2016.

The state canceled the 2004 presidential primary to save about $6.8 million during a one-day special session in December 2003.

Give wisely, Reed and McKenna say

OLYMPIA — The state’s naughty and nice list for charities and fund-raisers is out today, and state officials are suggesting that people be careful as well as generous this holiday season.

About $1.4 billion was donated to charities in the last year, but about $400 million of that didn’t go to the charity and instead went into overhead, administration or fund-raising costs.

The amount that actually goes to charitable work varies widely, and the state puts together a report each year on how much is spend on non charitable works by commercial fundraisers.

How widely? At the top of the list is Geen Point Call Center Services, Inc., which turns over 98 percent of what it raises to its charity clients.

At the bottom is DialogueDirect, Inc., has a negative percentage of -122 percent, meaning it actually costs charities more than they receive.

An executive summary of the report can be found here. The full list can be found here.

Turnout higher than expected

OLYMPIA — Turnout for last Tuesday’s election is higher than expected and may set a record for a mid-year election, Secretary of State Sam Reed said today.

State elections officials were projecting a turnout of 66 percent for the mid-term, but are now revising that upwards to 70 percent or more. Both political parties had massive get out the vote efforts, both when ballots first arrived in mailboxes in mid October and again in the closing days of the campaign.

Coupled with a hot Senate race, some controversial tax and government limitation issues on the ballot and competitive congressional and legislative races around the state, turnout is pushing up toward the record for a mid-term set in 1970 of 71.85 percent.

Reed says voters prefer Washington’s top-two primary system

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Sam Reed on top-two primary system, Sept. 10, 2010

Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed defended the mail-in voting system in this Q & A that appeared in today’s paper. The local GOP recently raised questions about the post office’s handling of the ballots.

We didn’t have space for all our questions that asked when Reed sat down with us earlier this month, but we posted some audio clips of him talking about the top-two primary system. Reed has championed the system, which recently was copied by California.

Reed said he figured voters would like the system in the primary because they wouldn’t be limited by party but that he would get a lot of complaints during the general election in districts where the final two choices turn out to be from one party. But Reed believes voters in ”single-party districts” have especially liked the system because it gives them competitive races to consider in November.

For clips of Reed talking about challenges to the system and the effects of the system, click here.

State getting bad rap on military voting waiver

Have you heard about how lunkheads in Washington state are trying to take the most precious right of all away from our brave men and women dodging bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how those commie pinkos in the federal government are going to let them because it will help Democrats win some tight races in November?
Or something like that. It gets better – or, worse – with each retelling of the reports that Washington state received a waiver from the federal law requiring military and overseas voters to be sent their ballots a month and a half before an election.
If it’s making your blood boil, congratulate yourself on your concern for military personnel. And take a chill pill, as the kids would say.
We’ll explain why, inside the blog….

Reed predicts 38 percent turnout

OLYMPIA — Slightly more than one Washingotn voter in three will mail back that ballot that arrived in the mail today or over the weekend, Secretary of State Sam Reed estimates.

Reed issued a turnout prediction of 38 percent for the Aug. 17 primary, which would be up toward the high end of the historic range. The average for a non-presidential even-year primary  is 34 percent, but the turnout in 2006 was 38 percent and conditions were pretty comparable to this year, he said.

Working in favor of better than average turnout is a hotly contested U.S. Senate race, an open Congressional seat in Southwest Washington’s 3rd District, some good legislative races around the state and some state Supreme Court races that can be decided in the primary, he said.

And there’s the energy the Tea Party movement seems to be bringing to the electorate and an anti-incumbent mood, State Elections Director Nick Handy added.

Spokane County Elections Office reports nearly 6,000 ballots back as of this morning, which is 2.3 percent of the 260,192 sent out.

Reed scheduled for cancer surgery

OLYMPIA — Secretary of State Sam Reed will have cancer surgery Monday in Seattle, his office announced this morning. He’s expected to return to work after a brief recovery period.

Reed, 69, was diagnosed recently with the early stages of kidney cancer: “Thanks to early detection and diagnosis, my doctors say my prognosis for successful surgery and recovery is excellent.” 

State to fight felon vote ruling

State Attorney General Rob McKenna says he’ll take Tuesday’s ruling that felons in prison have a right to vote up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

McKenna, Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed all said Wednesday they opposed the decision, handed down Tuesday in a 2-1 ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gregoire told reporters she’d back whichever route McKenna wants to take, whether it was a review by the 9th Circuit “en banc” or up to the Supremes.

“I think that case is not done,” Gregoire said during a presentation to reporters gathered for a legislative preview. “When you violate laws in the state, you lose your civil rights.

The state changed its laws last year to make it easier for felons to have their voting rights restored after they’ve served their time in prison and on parole. But the ruling by the appeals court would allow inmates in prison to cast ballots.

Reed named a top public official

Secretary of State Sam Reed was named a Public Official of the Year by Governing Magazine, the publication said Monday.

Reed will be one of eight elected or appointed government officials to get one of the annual awards in the November issue of the magazine, as well as a soiree in the other Washington on Nov. 16.

He’s being honored as an elected official who “who exuded fairness in managing a disputed gubernatorial election in 2004, then reformed the administration of elections in his state.”

That first part could have prompted a debate from members of Reed’s own party in early 2005, after Chris Gregoire overturned Dino Rossi’s lead in the second recount and was declared the winner, and the whole thing wound up in court. With Reed’s pushing and prodding, the Legislature made some major changes to the state’s voting laws that year and the next.

The award is bipartisan. Arkansa Gov. Mike Huckabee, a GOP presidential aspirant last year, got one in  2005. Gregoire, a Democrat, got one in 2007. And it’s not a guarantee of continued good performance. New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer got one in 2002.

Reed joins a relatively long list of Washington government folk so honored by the magazine. To see that list, go inside the blog.

About half the voters will

Vote, that is.

Or at least that’s Secretary of State Sam Reed’s projection, released today.

Reed projects turnout at 51 percent, down markedly from about 85 percent last  year. Ah, for the halcyon days of ‘08. Obama vs. McCain. A gaffe-watch on Joe Biden. A dissection of every word Sarah Palin uttered. Gregoire v. Rossi, part deux.

Even with two statewide initiatives — one on government spending and another on domestic partnership rights — there just arent as many vote grabbers this year.

If he’s right, 2009 will be about average for an off-year, mostly local election, Reed said.