Jon Anson was just “trying to do the right thing” when he cast a ballot in November. Now he finds himself falsely accused by the state Republican Party of voting illegally.
He didn’t, and he has the documentation to prove it.
Anson, a Spokane resident, is on a list of names the state GOP released late Thursday of more than 1,100 felons the political party claims shouldn’t have voted because they haven’t had their voting rights restored. The list is alphabetized by county, so Anson is on the top of the list for Spokane, and on Friday, reporters started showing up at his door on the lower South Hill, questioning him about voting.
Yes, he does have a felony record, Anson acknowledged, although he declined to discuss specifics. But he also has documents from the state Department of Corrections and Skagit County Superior Court, where he was sentenced.
Those documents show that as of June 5, 2003, the court “has restored your rights to vote or hold office.” He said he registered almost immediately and has voted every chance he’s had since then.
“Isn’t that the whole point, once you’ve paid that debt … become a good member of society, follow the laws, and vote?” he wondered. “I see it as my civic duty.”
Being falsely accused of voting illegally – another felony – is like “getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick,” Anson said.
The list is the latest twist in the ongoing challenge of Democrat Christine Gregoire’s election as governor. After she finished the hand recount just 129 votes ahead of Republican Dino Rossi, the GOP challenged the election results. Since shortly after the challenge was filed, Republicans have contended that dozens, then hundreds, and now more than 1,100 felons voted illegally, more than enough to call Gregoire’s margin of victory into question and prompt a new election.
On Thursday, party officials said there were likely “hundreds if not thousands of other felons who cast illegal ballots in November.” But they released to the state Democratic Party and the news media the 1,135 names “of which we are most certain.”
“In compiling this list, we did extensive research and tried to be as accurate as possible,” said Mary Lane, spokeswoman for Rossi. “We’re confident in the overall accuracy of the list, but it won’t be a surprise if there are some errors.”
Anson is one of those errors. So is Robert L. King of Spokane, who said Friday he doesn’t have a felony record. He is sometimes confused with another Robert L. King, who once lived in Spokane and now apparently lives in Vancouver, Wash. He said he sometimes receives calls for child support the other King hasn’t paid.
“That’s bogus,” King said. “The worst thing I’ve ever had is a speeding ticket.”
Based on interviews with the voters on the list The Spokesman-Review was able to contact Friday, some are felons who should not have voted. But they appear to have cast ballots based on bad information, not on any conspiracy to swing the election one way or another.
Shane Rupert of Veradale said he probably should be on the list. Convicted in 2002 of being an accessory to second-degree burglary, Rupert thought he had his right to vote restored when he received a “satisfaction of judgment” statement after paying his fine, performing 236 hours of community service, and completing his probation. Now 22, Rupert had registered to vote when he was 18, and he assumed that if he wasn’t eligible to vote, county elections officials would have removed him from the rolls.
Last fall, he believed he should cast a ballot in a presidential election if he could, went to the polls and “my name was on the list.” So he voted.
Asked how he voted in the gubernatorial election, Rupert said he wasn’t sure and had to ask who had run. “I think it was for Rossi,” he said after being told the candidates’ names.
A few months ago, he said, he was at the Spokane County Courthouse with a friend and checked with court officials to see if there was anything he still needed to do to clear his conviction. They told him he needed to file the paperwork to get his voting rights restored, and he has started that process.
Garmt Zuiderweg said he voted, even though he is a felon, because he got mailings urging him to register, and to vote.
“They sent me a thing that said ‘Please vote,’ ” said Zuiderweg while lying on his bed in his North Spokane apartment with prescription drug bottles scattered by his side. He said he is dying of cancer.
Zuiderweg said he went across the street to Stevens Elementary School to register, and to vote. It was the first time he ever voted, he added, and he voted Democrat.
Len Wavra of North Spokane said he decided it was time to act responsibly and registered to vote in 2003. A few months later he ran into legal trouble, when he was arrested on a complaint of harassment by a former girlfriend. Convicted of fourth-degree assault as part of a plea bargain, he said he asked his lawyer at one point if he would still be able to vote. He remembers her saying he would eventually lose his voting rights, but would get them back “down the road.”
When his absentee ballot arrived in the mail last October, he assumed election officials would only send him a ballot if he were still eligible. He marked his ballot and mailed it back. Although he doesn’t remember the governor’s race specifically, but because he backed John Kerry and other Democrats, he’s pretty sure he voted for Gregoire.
Spokane County Elections Supervisor Paul Brandt said Wavra received a ballot because of a clerical error. His office received the paperwork in September saying Wavra should be removed from the rolls because of a felony, but it was incorrectly filed and the error wasn’t caught until after the election.
Wavra is the only name among the 20 on the GOP list that shows up in the reports Spokane County received from the courts of persons convicted of felonies. The county knows of one felon who voted in November but is not on the GOP list. That voter didn’t lose his voting rights until late October, and elections officials weren’t able to remove him from the poll list in time, County Auditor Vicky Dalton said.
The state GOP did not send her office the list, Dalton said, so she had to get a copy from The Spokesman-Review. She said election workers would check the names to see if they are registered, did vote, and are on any notification reports the county has received of voters who lost their rights.
If the party has any proof, it should bring it forward, and the voter can answer in the quasi-judicial process set up by state law, Dalton said. She can’t just lop them off the list on the Republicans’ say-so, she said.
Some of the names apparently don’t belong on the list, and putting those voters through the voter challenge process would be unfair, she added.
Just releasing the list means “there’s going to be a lot of grief and pain for some legal voters,” Dalton said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.