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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Group wants clean voter roll

An election reform group intent on cleaning up the voter rolls is offering to file challenges against people who don’t live where they are registered to vote.

On Tuesday the Evergreen Freedom Foundation was able to claim a victory when a federal appeals court judge and her husband changed their Seattle voter registration to avoid a formal hearing over the group’s challenge.

Betty Fletcher, 9th U.S. Circuit Appeals Court judge, and her husband Robert L. Fletcher, a University of Washington law professor, had listed the King County Administration Building as their residence and U.S. Courthouse in Seattle as their mailing address on voter registration forms.

That’s illegal, contends Bob Edelman, of the foundation. State and federal law make it clear that a voter must list his or her actual residence when filling out a registration form.

Spokane County Elections Manager Paul Brandt said the reason for that is pretty clear. Where a person lives determines what candidates he or she can vote for in city, county or legislative districts that divide the community.

But registering at another address is not uncommon. A check of voter records in Spokane County shows four people registered to vote at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Spokane, including Senior U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush and his wife, Marie.

One reason, Judge Quackenbush said, is they no longer own property in Spokane and travel frequently. Their most recent address is a few blocks away, and in the same voting precinct as the downtown courthouse, Quackenbush said.

“Another reason is security concerns,” said Judge Quackenbush, who has received death threats over the years. They changed their registration to the courthouse a few years ago. All their mail comes to his ninth-floor chambers; their driver’s licenses and car registrations also list that address.

One of the other people registered at the federal courthouse – a probation officer who asked that his name not be used for this story – said he also listed that on his voting registration for security concerns.

“I try to keep my name out of the public eye … for my safety and my family’s safety,” he said, adding he was surprised to hear his registration might not be legal and would have to research it.

The fourth person is a federal marshal who could not be reached for comment. But Quackenbush said he thought it likely that the marshal also listed the courthouse out of security concerns.

State and federal laws do allow some voters to list addresses that aren’t their residences, Edelman said. Homeless persons are allowed to list a shelter that they frequent or can use a public building close to where they are living. The Spokane County Courthouse – which like the federal courthouse has no residences – is listed as the voting address for a dozen people, none of them judges or other public officials.

“Judges usually aren’t homeless,” Edelman said. “There’s lots of people that are registered at their offices. They do it out of convenience, but it’s not legal.”

Persons who are in a domestic violence protection program can also register without revealing an address, Brandt said. In those cases, elections officials are given the voter’s location to place in the proper precinct, but the address never appears in public records and absentee ballots are mailed to a state office, which forwards them to the voter.

But there is no similar security program for law enforcement personnel to protect their addresses, Brandt said. The Legislature has been asked to make that exception, but has so far not agreed.

Elections officials can’t remove a voter from the rolls unless they receive a formal challenge, a process that involves someone providing evidence that a voter lives somewhere other than where he or she is registered. The foundation filed such a challenge in King County against the Fletchers, and a hearing was set for Tuesday but was canceled after they changed their registration last Friday.

Edelman said the challenge really wasn’t about the Fletchers, but about an election system that needs to be fixed. He’d be willing to file challenges against the Quackenbushes, he added, but the process can be time-consuming.

“This case demonstrates once again the need for a complete updating of the rolls to eliminate improper addresses and to drop noncitizens, felons who have not had their rights restored, and the deceased from voter registers,” he said.

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