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Supporting the foundations of democracy—Washington State

Officials in some states are determined to make voting a complicated task—purging voter rolls, reducing the number and open hours of polling places, prescribing specific IDs etc. Not the Pacific Northwest.  With all mail ballots, voting is easy though it might have lost an important contribution to civic life represented by meeting your neighbors at the polls.  In a major study of voting during the 2016 General Election, the investigators turned up 74 potential cases of individuals who were ineligible to vote, or otherwise committed electoral fraud in Washington state, out of 3.36 million votes cast.

What can happen before you even get to election day

If an election-related piece of mail is returned by the post office as undeliverable to the voter at that address, the county puts that registration  on “inactive” status.  A voter who is on inactive status may return to active status at any time by updating his or her address, requesting a ballot, or submitting a new voter registration application.

Uh oh.  If you don’t fix the inactive status and you let two federal general elections go by without voting…

If the registration stays on inactive status through two consecutive federal general elections, the registration is cancelled.

However—you must be notified if they’re going to cancel your registration

Both state and federal law require that a notice be sent to the voter any time a change in the status of a registration occurs. (But they already had a returned mailing, so….?)

Can your registration be cancelled if you just don’t vote?

If the voter remains at the same address and chooses not to vote, the registration cannot be cancelled. If the voter moves, however, and election-related mail is returned to the county elections office as undeliverable, the registration will be placed on inactive status. An inactive registration can be cancelled if the voter does not vote in two federal general elections. (Go back to Item #1)

What else does the WA Secretary of State do to maintain valid voter rolls?

Three times a year, the Secretary of State uses information provided by the Department of Corrections and the state court system to screen the list of registered voters for ineligible felons. If you are registered to vote, but are ineligible because of a felony conviction, they will send you a letter explaining that your registration will be cancelled in 30 days.The letter provides information on how to dispute the cancellation.  Assuming you got the letter…You can vote if you’ve had a felony conviction but are no longer under the supervision of the DOC (but you have to register or re-register).

And… the Secretary of State’s office routinely compares its voter registration database to lists of deaths and felony convictions. They look for duplicates every night!

How do they know the ballot you mailed in was yours to vote?  If you really want to know, these two provisions of state law are the answer:

RCW 29A.60.050 requires that when the people who count the ballots have a question about validity, they make a record of the issue and send it with the ballot to the “canvassing board.”  The ballot is rejected only if it’s been rejected individually by the board and then it has to be preserved just in case.  RCW 29A.60.300  Statewide survey of voted ballot rejection rates and reasons for rejections

Every odd-numbered year, the secretary of state must conduct and publish a statewide survey of voted ballot rejection rates and the reasons for those rejections by county auditors and canvassing boards.

RCW 29A.60.300 requires the Secretary of State to make a study every 2 years of rejection rates (and reasons) for ballots having been rejected across all counties. They’re supposed to analyze auditors’ practices and recommend improvements to minimize rejections — among other things. The report has to be available to the public.

(Ed. note: this is an excerpt from Noam Chomsky speaking…