How Do WA Counties ‘Clean, Maintain’ Voter Rolls? We Asked
Many are not pleased with the political outcome of the 2020 general election, but in WA state we are a lot better off than many when it comes to voting integrity.
We talked Thursday with Benton County Auditor Brenda Chilton and asked her what is done county and statewide to ensure we don't end up like Nevada, Arizona, Wisconsin or Michigan, to put it bluntly.
Chilton said voter rolls are maintained at the state level by the Secretary of State and Elections Director officials.
For removing 'dead' voters, each month the state receives lists of death certificates from the State Health Department. These are curated against the voter rolls, and then removed. They're checked locally in each county to make sure that person is not somebody else with the same name.
Benton County, and many other counties, also review local obituaries and the state also receives lists each month from the Social Security Administration (SSA) about people who have died. These are used to update lists. Reviewing obituaries allows them to learn about local residents who may still legally vote in WA, but live in another state, so they can be removed.
The Department of Corrections also sends regular updates to the state about convicted criminals who are felons, and who are not longer eligible to vote unless they specifically appeal. Again, these are filtered down to the county level where they are checked vs. voter registrations.
Data is sent to the state, then the counties do the actual verification and investigating to maintain the registrations.
Another way to update voter registrations is active vs. inactive voters. If a voter in Benton or any other county has not voted in two consecutive general elections (four years apart) they can be removed from the registration list completely. If a voter has not yet reached this threshold, but have not voted in 1 general and then a off year, they can be placed on the inactive list; but they are still registered.
A county or the state cannot just 'cancel' or remove a voter unless they follow these processes, which are tied to years of inactivity. Multiple mailers and other efforts, including working with the Post Office, are used to stay in touch with or contact these kinds of 'missing' voters.
Benton County and the state are part of the ERIC system or Electronic Registration Information Coalition. Not all states are, but more are joining. WA has been part of it for ten years. It allows states to cross reference data, to make sure (for example) 'Fred Jones' isn't registered to vote in both WA and CA.
Washington state, since the Rossi-Gregoire debacle years ago, has enacted many of these policies to clean up the system. During that process, it was later learned that some 127 dead people in King County had voted. That and other issues prompted a slew of reforms.
Chilton says no system is perfect, but WA has been able to avoid the massive issues facing multiple states in the general election.
Chilton also remarked that one of THE most concerning issues she believes can cause issues in voting is the issue of Ballot Harvesting. She said they understand some people cannot physically return their ballot due to various issues, but WA state has provisions in place to ensure safe and secure returns of ballots for people in hospice, senior care and other incapacities.
Right now Benton County is waiting to see if petitioners will be able to return the required number of ballots to get the recall of Sheriff Jerry Hatcher on either the February or April 2021 special county only election ballot.
If a group of parents and attorneys are able to get their KSD school board recall petition approved by a judge, there could be additional 'work' for the county auditor's office and election officials as well.
Recalls take a long time. The petitioning group has to get the recall approved by a judge (does it have merit?) it can then be appealed to State Supreme Court. But once granted, they then must gather enough signatures to equal 25% of the votes that elected official(s) got in their last election. Then there is the special election. Sometimes officials are removed, sometimes they survive recall elections.