The Washelli Precinct has finally reported. To Washington's goofy and dubious postelection recounts of lost, folded, and spindled ballots, we can now add those from a forgotten silent minority: the dead. Perhaps dozens of them.
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Rumors of voters having cast ballots from the grave in the 2004 gubernatorial election, now certified as a 129-vote win for Democrat Christine Gregoire, had been circulating for several weeks. The gossip picked up currency on the Internet when a contributor to the right-leaning blog SoundPolitics.com discovered first one, then two, names of dead people whose votes were counted in King County. Seattle Weekly subsequently discovered two more by comparing names in obituaries to voter rolls.
On Friday, Jan. 7, two Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporters said they had unearthed the names of eight people who died well before the general election but were credited with voting in King County. Topping that, six Seattle Times reporters, assisted by a computer comparison of voter and death records, bumped the tally up to 24 names discovered in just six of the state's 39 counties.
King County election officials promised an investigation of any possible fraudulent votes, and the Republicans, hoping to get a new election for losing candidate Dino Rossi, plan to cite deceased voters as among reasons the election was, well, fatally flawed. "There is no way anyone can call this election valid until every single vote, and voter, is accounted for," says GOP state Chair Chris Vance. Evidence suggests some dead votes might have been illegally cast by others, although the Times said that, in a dozen cases, mere clerical and voting errors had led to dead people being wrongly credited as voting.
Seattleites might be surprised to hear the city's cemeteries sometimes vote in the great corrupt traditions of Chicago and Boston, but it has happened. In 1998, for example, a KING-TV investigation discovered evidence that dead voters had cast ballots.
"We got information there were dead voters, but we didn't air that," says former KING-TV chief investigator Duane Pohlman, now at WEWS-TV in Cleveland, where he's covering the Ohio vote scandal. "We were focusing more on the integrity of the King County system, finding that 5,200 voters were illegally registered twice, and hundreds of them voted twice. After our reports, they assured us they had cleaned it up."
In Seattle, as he's discovering in Cleveland, Pohlman says, "We're told consistently that every vote counts. The bottom line is, if you look at the process closely enough, that's not true. This really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone inside the system. They've known of these problems for years."
Democrats continue to argue that the 2004 election was about as good as it can get. State Democratic Chair Paul Berendt called the latest vote "the most accurate election in state history," which might not be saying much. Elections, at least in King County, have become about as reliable as campaign promises. In Pohlman's 1999 story, for example, a county official told KING-TV: "I have seen no evidence of voter fraud" but, if any is found, "I will take swift and appropriate action." That debacle was followed by voting breakdowns in subsequent years. In 2003, weary county Executive Ron Sims promised it would "never, ever again happen."
Yet the beat goes on in 2005, and Stefan Sharkansky, the most prolific contributor to the SoundPolitics.com blog, says in a posting that the newly discovered dead votes are further proof—if it's needed—that the county system remains unfixed.
"I've found so many examples of the dearly departed who are still registered years after their deaths that I've stopped counting," writes Sharkansky, who has been doing his own voter-roll comparisons. "I also keep getting e-mails from readers who report receiving absentee ballots for deceased relatives and former homeowners for years, despite attempts to inform the county."
One blogger wrote that he's been getting his parents' absentee ballots, even though he informed King County that both parents are dead. "I have saved them all unopened to prove they have not voted," he writes. "Kept the ballots out of curiosity [to see] how long this would keep on." Eight years, and counting.