The reports of Spokane Valley voter Robert B. Johnson’s demise, to borrow a phrase, are greatly exaggerated.
Johnson was one of two dozen “deceased” voters turned up recently by a Seattle Times investigation into potential problems with ballots cast in the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election. The newspaper matched names and birthdates of people listed in state Health Department death records with the names and birth dates of voters in Spokane and five other counties, and concluded in a story Friday that as many as 24 ballots were illegally cast for dead people in those counties.
Johnson was the only one the investigation found in Spokane County. But in an interview Monday, he said he was still very much alive – and voting legally in the same precinct since 1958.
“There’s a lot of Robert Johnsons around,” said the Valley retiree who formerly worked for a machinery company. He knows of a butcher, a contractor and a television repairman with the same name, and lists his middle name in the phone book to help clear up confusion.
“There’s so many of them that when I go into the doctor’s office for an appointment, they need my birth date to get the right file.”
And that’s at the heart of this case of mistaken identity. County Elections Supervisor Paul Brandt said another Robert B. Johnson, who was born in 1917, did die in 1988. Sometime later, when Spokane County was transferring its voter registration records, someone mistakenly switched the birthdays for him and the non-deceased Robert B. Johnson, who was born in 1925.
The deceased Robert B. Johnson was removed from the rolls, but the incorrect birth date remained on file for the alive and voting Robert B. Johnson, Brandt said. The mistake wasn’t realized until the newspaper report was published.
The mix-up over the Robert B. Johnson records wouldn’t have surfaced except for the increased scrutiny that comes from the governor’s race, which resulted in two recounts and left Democrat Christine Gregoire with a 129-vote margin over Republican Dino Rossi. The Rossi campaign and the state GOP say there are so many questions about who voted and who didn’t vote that they filed a lawsuit in Chelan County, asking for the courts to order a new election.
Among the GOP’s complaints are ballots being cast by voters who are deceased.
State law requires the state Health Department to send the list of death certificates to county elections offices, but they only come three times a year, Brandt said. Spokane County also checks lists from the county Health Department, and the obituaries that run in the local newspapers in an effort to remove dead voters from the rolls.
“I’m relatively confident that they are fairly clean,” Brandt said.
He knows of no cases in which someone cast a ballot for a deceased voter, although he recalls a case in which someone died after marking an absentee ballot but before the election. State law allows that ballot to be counted.
Brandt said county elections officials will send Valley voter Robert B. Johnson a registration form and ask him to fill it out so they can update his records.
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