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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Secession, fluoride and hand-counted ballots: Spokane County GOP adopts first changes to platform in decade

People came on foot and by car to drop off their election ballots at the North Spokane Library on Hawthorne Rd., Tuesday, Nov 8, 2022. At times there were upwards of 30 cars in line to drop off their ballots. (Christopher Anderson/For The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane County Republican Party on March 2 adopted the first changes in a decade to its platform, clarifying the shifting priorities of a local party whose members increasingly believe that elections are not secure and that splitting off from Washington state may be necessary.

The county party now officially opposes “forced vaccinations or medical procedures,” as well as adding fluoride into public drinking systems, as the city of Spokane has been considering for years. The county GOP also clarified its stance against the state’s Climate Commitment Act, as well as opposition to income, capital gains or inheritance taxes.

The platform also calls for the removal of the United Nations Headquarters, currently located in New York City, from U.S. soil and strict limits on the power of the governor to act through executive order during emergency situations, a response to the authorities wielded by Gov. Jay Inslee during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The prior platform already called for identification in order to cast a vote and supported a “physical paper trail” for ballots. Now, however, the party also calls for removing all “internet-capable machines, computers and software” from the election system, an end to mail-in voting and a return to hand counting ballots, all while reporting final election results the night of the election, a proposal that current and former election officials from both major parties called unfeasible and unnecessary.

The county party now supports actions “up to and including secession from the State of Washington” in the event the state government “continues to infringe on our Constitutional rights or the Spokane County Republican Party Platform,” a change that caused some intraparty controversy, including among supporters of splitting the state in two along the Cascade Range.

The amendments were the first changes to the platform since 2014, which county party chair MJ Bolt said was due to stricter adherence to parliamentary procedure and better defined controls on debate and deliberation within the party. The platform’s language regarding many issues remains unchanged, including a belief that life begins at conception and that states should have the right to determine the legal status of abortion and marriage.

Some of the changes adopted March 2 deal with issues that few people in politics are discussing, such as opposing any state or federal centralized digital currency and supporting the development of small modular nuclear reactors to back up the power grid.

But some of the significant changes to the platform’s positions are divisive even among staunch Republicans in the county party.

Alene Lindstrand, who had served on the platform committee tasked with compiling the suggested changes, called for the secession provision to be removed. She argued that Spokane, the largest city east of the Cascades, had “fallen to the Marxists,” weakening the position of a possible 51st state. She also questioned the use of the word “secession,” which typically implies separating from a country.

Precinct Committee Officer Marshall Casey said that while he supported the concept of creating a 51st state, it was contradictory to advocate for candidates for governor and other statewide positions while also adopting a platform that considers breaking away from Washington state.

Hundreds of party members voted in favor of removing the secession provision, though not enough to meet the two-thirds threshold to amend the platform before it was adopted. Notably, former state Rep. Matt Shea, who long championed the creation of a 51st state called Liberty during his time in the Legislature, joined the vote to remove the secession provision.

Shea declined to say if he still supported the creation of Liberty State when approached by a reporter at the convention.

The county party’s call for in-person, hand-counted voting in one day with final results published the same night would require a radical shift in the state’s election system and a huge increase in the number of temporary employees by county elections offices. Ballots are currently accepted up until 8 p.m. on election nights, which would leave four hours to count hundreds of thousands of votes for potentially dozens of different elections in Spokane County alone.

“Hand -counting takes an incredibly long time, even by people who know how to do it and can do it well,” said Vicki Dalton, a Democrat who has worked as Spokane County auditor and overseen local elections for a quarter-century. “People who have already worked a 14-hour day are now expected to sit there and accurately hand -count ballots?”

Lyle Dach, vice chair for the Spokane County Republican Party, noted that it took until around 10 p.m. during the party’s convention to finish hand-counting votes for delegates to the state convention in April. He said he had supported bringing in electronic voting machines not connected to the internet to tally those votes quicker, but that there had been pushback from some members of the party.

He said allowing a voting machine for an internal party election did not contradict the party’s position opposing such machines for elections for government office.

Dalton said the only internet-connected machines in the elections office were solely for accessing voter rolls, and that the tabulation machines and their server are wholly contained in a single room with even their connecting wires visible to onlookers.

She also argued that many of the provisions called for in the county GOP platform would disenfranchise voters.

“They want to go back to the 1970s … that no longer fits the way our society works,” she said.

Sam Reed and Kim Wyman, Republicans who served as Washington’s secretary of state and oversaw the state’s elections for a combined 20 years, both criticized the county party’s proposal and said the state’s mail-in ballots were secure.

“This platform, and I’ve heard that from others across the state, it’s usually generated by national rhetoric and has very little to do with Washington state elections,” Reed said in an interview. “You can ask, ‘Give me some examples of voter fraud in Washington,’ and there are virtually none.”

Reed called hand -counting “absurd.”

“When I became Thurston county auditor in the late ’70s, there were still a few counties that hand -counted,” he said. “When we had to do recounts, guess which counties were the most off? The ones hand -counting, because there were human beings making errors, while the machines were much better.”

Wyman, who served as secretary of state until 2021, said election integrity concerns have been on the rise since the 2020 presidential elections, after then-President Donald Trump alleged without evidence that the election was stolen via widespread voter fraud, particularly with electronic voting machines.

“Americans have a right to question how government works and to make sure they’re doing things in the public’s interest,” Wyman said. “But three years after the 2020 election … no one has proven that any of these systems were hacked or that the votes were altered.”