In Washington state's 2004 race for governor, months of legal challenges followed Election Day. This time around, the legal battles are getting a head start.
In the run-up to a rematch of a gubernatorial contest decided by just 129 votes, local journalists and advocacy groups have uncovered discrepancies in the state voting rolls that could allow thousands of ineligible felons to participate in the election.
Allegations of such problems are nothing new in Washington. In 2004, Republicans charged that fraudulent votes from felons, non-citizens, and the deceased handed the election to Democrat Christine Gregoire. GOP candidate Dino Rossi had won the initial ballot count by 261 votes and the first recount by 42 votes before a Democratic-sponsored hand recount overturned the outcome.
Rossi supporters now believe that Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed has not done enough to ensure that the problems of four years ago are not repeated. Non-partisan news reports lend credence to that claim. Local CBS television affiliate KIRO uncovered almost 24,000 convicted criminals on the state rolls who had not undergone proper vetting to determine their voter eligibility. Felons must complete all the requirements of sentencing-prison time, restitution, etc.-before a judge can sign an order restoring their civil rights.
Reed has cited his efforts to clean up voter fraud in his campaign for re-election. Indeed, the two-term secretary of state has purged some 40,000 ineligible voters from the rolls in the last two years. But regarding felons, Reed's office has only vetted those on parole, on probation, or still in prison. Thousands of others, many of whom may have yet to have their voting rights restored, remain unchecked.
The conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation is pressing Reed to take action on the felon voter issue. It is likewise pushing Reed to crack down on ineligible underage registrations. But with Election Day less than a week away, solutions on either front appear unlikely.
More than 1,000 felons cast ballots in the state's gubernatorial race four years ago. A repeat of that number could well alter this year's outcome.