A Soap Lake man is challenging the voting credentials of hundreds of Washington voters, saying he thinks they’re illegal immigrants who registered and cast ballots illegally.
But Martin Ringhofer may have a hard time proving the challenges he has filed in Spokane and 10 other Washington counties.
For one thing, there’s the methodology of his research. Ringhofer said he obtained a list of people who registered to vote when they obtained or renewed a driver’s license, then culled the list for names “that appear to be from outside the United States,” particularly those that appeared to be Hispanic or Asian.
“We eliminated names that clearly sounded American-born, like John Smith, or Powell,” he said Wednesday.
For another, there’s the fact that many of the people on his list are citizens. In fact, The Spokesman-Review contacted a dozen of the 161 people on Ringhofer’s Spokane County list, and all of them are citizens.
“It’s kind of insulting that someone would decide because our name is different than Smith or Jones that we’re not American,” said Deborah Kay Carollo, of Spokane Valley, who is on the list with her husband, Anthony Carollo. “I was born at Sacred Heart. My husband’s great-grandfather came over from Italy.”
“I was born in Ithaca, N.Y., and have lived in the United States all my life,” said Jon Garcia, another Valley resident on the list.
“That’s crazy,” said Felix Castro, of Spokane, who is on the list with his wife, Adela. Both were born in the United States.
Kimberly Espinosa, of Medical Lake, another American-born citizen, was surprised when told she was on a list of illegal immigrants who voted: “I’m going to kick somebody’s butt.”
Yousef Beyrouti, who was naturalized as an American citizen more than a year ago and then signed up to vote, said he wasn’t angry to be on a list that questioned his eligibility to vote. But he suggested that Ringhofer should do a better job of research.
“In the United States, immigrants come from all over the world,” Beyrouti said. “He should know better, that names don’t mean a lot and you can’t make judgments based on names.”
Ringhofer, who filed the challenges on behalf of a group he calls Washington State Americans for Legal Immigration, acknowledged that his system for finding illegal aliens who vote could have problems.
“I was well aware of the fact that there would be errors,” he said.
But he doesn’t see that as a problem because people on the list who are citizens can simply tell county officials that they are citizens and provide some proof. It’s not his responsibility to correct those mistakes, he insisted, but the job of county elections officials.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton disagrees. State statute says the person filing a challenge must prove “by clear and convincing evidence that the challenged voter’s registration is improper,” Dalton said.
“Otherwise, a flood of unsupported allegations could have a chilling effect upon the ability of segments of the population to register and vote,” she said.
Ringhofer’s challenges in Spokane and the other counties don’t meet the strict requirements of the law, Dalton said. He filed a single document that says he believes people registered to vote without proof of citizenship and attached a list with 161 names; Dalton and other auditors have concluded he needs to file a separate challenge for each name, with any proof that he has for that voter.
Told of Dalton’s assessment of his challenge, Ringhofer said he hadn’t been contacted by any elections officials but believes that his challenges are adequate. Although he’s not an attorney, he believes he’s correctly interpreting the law.
“I’m entitled, as a registered voter, as a U.S. citizen, to make that challenge,” he said. He has an even bigger list he plans to file with King County.
The voters’ challenges are Ringhofer’s second challenge involving the state’s elections process this year. In January, he tried to mount a recall of Secretary of State Sam Reed, who Ringhofer contended was guilty of malfeasance and misfeasance for allowing Democrat Christine Gregoire to be elected governor on the hand recount. A Thurston County Superior Court said last month the charges listed in the recall petition were legally or factually insufficient, or both.
Ringhofer said some of the people involved in the Reed recall effort were supporting his challenge of illegal voters. Himself a legal immigrant, Ringhofer said “it’s common knowledge” the nation has a problem with illegal aliens voting.
Ira Mehlman, of the Los Angeles-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, agreed that it is relatively easy for illegal immigrants to register to vote because proof of citizenship usually is not required.
“It happens,” Mehlman said. “I don’t know that anybody can quantify the problem.”
But he questioned Ringhofer’s method for picking suspected illegal alien voters. “You can’t judge who’s a citizen by the sound of a name. You can’t draw a profile of what an American looks like.”
Curtis Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate in Washington, D.C., called the registration of illegal aliens “a minor problem.” But trying to challenge such voters based on their names seems like “using a very blunt instrument” to address that problem, he added.
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