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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

GOP-backed Spokane County canvassing group alleges elections system is ‘not clean,’ but declines to share specifics

An election ballot is placed in a ballot box outside of the Spokane Public Library on Nov. 7, 2016, in downtown Spokane.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

A group backed by the Spokane County Republican Party says a canvassing effort has unearthed more than a thousand voter registration anomalies, but it hasn’t given the county auditor any names or addresses that would make it possible to confirm their findings.

The county GOP’s election integrity committee has spent nearly a year identifying what it believes are critical flaws within the Washington and Spokane County election systems.

In June, the group asked the Spokane County commissioners to approve a third-party audit of the county’s 2022 election. The commissioners said only the Washington Secretary of State had the authority to grant that request.

Now, the group has completed a report in collaboration with the Washington Voter Research Project, a multicounty doorbelling effort organized by conservative activist Glen Morgan.

That report argues that the Spokane County Auditor’s Office does a poor job updating voter registration records, which creates opportunities for fraud.

Matt Hawkins, the Spokane County Republican Party’s state committeeman, stressed that the report doesn’t claim to present evidence of fraud or deliberate wrongdoing by voters or the auditor’s office.

This is merely an attempt to restore faith in elections by cleaning up the voter registration records, he said.

“We’re not investigating any kind of criminal activity,” Hawkins said. “We’re trying to investigate: Is there integrity in our election process?”

The canvassing report includes data and descriptions of specific incidents. But it doesn’t provide names or addresses that would allow anyone to verify the data or descriptions.

“Without the specifics, it’s hard to determine if what’s being pointed out is actually a problem or an issue,” Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said. “There’s a lot of broad conclusions in here without a lot of detail.”

The report

Before launching its canvassing effort, the Washington Voter Research Project obtained voter registration records.

Hawkins said the group then analyzed those records to identify potentially suspicious registrations.

Volunteers then visited the addresses associated with those registrations, knocked on doors and asked questions.

From September through June, volunteers visited 849 Spokane County homes. Residents at 624 of them were willing to talk to the canvassers.

At 577 of those homes, the information provided by residents didn’t perfectly align with the voter registration records. Between those 577 homes, the Voter Research Project found 1,304 total “anomalies.”

The data and incidents point to five conclusions, the report says:

  • Ballots are being mailed to the wrong addresses too often.
  • Dead people are being removed from the registration records too slowly.
  • Voters who move away from Washington should be removed from the records faster.
  • Some people are registered to vote twice and receive two ballots.
  • Some voting addresses aren’t occupied by a home of any kind.

Alene Lindstrand, who helped compile the canvassing report, said the evidence compiled through the canvassing effort is clear.

“The registration rolls are not clean,” she said.

Confirming the findings

Dalton emphasized that she can’t fully respond to the report without a list of names and addresses.

“A considerable number of these situations may not be a problem,” she said, “but without the detail, we can’t evaluate it.”

However, Dalton said she believes her office does everything it can to track people who move and die.

The auditor’s office constantly updates its records. Driver’s license information, Department of Health death notices, obituaries and other tools all help keep the voter records as current as possible, Dalton said, adding that unfortunately people don’t often tell the government when they move.

Dalton also highlighted that the Voter Research Project is using 18-month-old data, which is important considering 20-25% of the county’s registration records change every year.

The Voter Research Project has provided reports to Clark, King and Thurston counties.

In each of those cases, county auditor’s received names and addresses that allowed them to look into the anomalies, Dalton said.

“What was pointed out as anomalies turned out not to be actual problems,” she said. “No system is perfect, but ours is actually very, very good.”

Hawkins and Lindstrand said Dalton might not get the names and addresses.

The report has enough evidence on its own, Hawkins said.

“If our sample set shows that there’s a problem, you don’t solve the problem by just cleaning up the samples that evidence themselves,” he said.

Lindstrand, a Republican who ran for county auditor in 2014 against Dalton, said she trusts the residents who spoke to the canvassers. She said she doesn’t believe they were trying to do anything nefarious.

“I’m not wanting to get anybody into trouble,” Lindstrand said. “I am going to protect peoples’ privacy.”

She added a caveat: “I will give her the information if she will sit down and have a conversation,” Lindstrand said.

According to Dalton, the group hasn’t tried to arrange a sit down. She said she only received a copy of the canvassing report through the county commissioners.

“I have not been asked to meet with anyone,” she said. “There’s been no communication directly to me.”

Hawkins and Lindstrand also want another meeting with the county commissioners. 

Spokane County spokesman Jared Webley said the commissioners have received Hawkins’ request. 

“The commissioners have said if it’s just to present these claims without any factual data to be presented at the meeting, then you can bring that up in a public forum,” Webley said. “But as far as taking time out an agenda they weren’t prepared to do that.” 

Dalton reiterated that she wants the names and addresses behind the anomalous voter registrations.

“Bottom line, we really want that list,” she said. “We want the detail. We want to be able to go through it and determine if there are any real issues that need to be addressed.”

Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly described whether Hawkins had requested a meeting with the Spokane County commissioners due to incorrect information from a source. The story has also been updated to include additional information provided by the county commissioners.