Local View: Challenge to signature law right step



It’s an unusual situation when an elected official is pleased that 75 of his constituents take legal action against him. However, I find myself in precisely this circumstance.

Upon being elected to the office of Clark County auditor I took an oath to uphold the laws and Constitution of the state of Washington. Unfortunately, in carrying out my obligation to examine signatures on a petition submitted to the city of Vancouver I found my responsibility to follow one specific law to be in conflict with my view of what is in the public’s best interest. Consequently, I urged legal action challenging this law.

This law requires that if a registered voter signs a city petition more than once, then none of that person’s signatures will be counted. In contrast, when a voter returns more than one ballot to the Elections Department (which can happen for a number of reasons) the first ballot is counted and the second is set aside — we certainly don’t toss out both ballots.

On this petition submitted to the city of Vancouver, there were multiple signatures from 606 registered voters who reside in the city of Vancouver. Without evidence of intent to commit fraud, the right of people to petition their government should not be taken away from them simply because they mistakenly signed a petition multiple times.

The Washington State Supreme Court struck down a similar law regarding multiple signatures on state petitions. Since that ruling, if a registered voter signs a state petition more than one time the first signature is counted, and any additional signatures by that voter are set aside. Multiple signatures on city petitions should be treated the same as multiple signatures on state petitions.

Accuracy is top priority

I am aware of the view of some that it took an unnecessarily lengthy period of time to examine the signatures on the petition that is the subject of this legal action. Accuracy is the Elections Department’s highest priority. Conducting elections and meeting related statutory deadlines must take precedence over reviewing signatures on city petitions. Our review of the petition signatures was completed well in advance of the time required by the Vancouver City Council to either put into effect the ordinance proposed by this initiative, or place it on the next city general election (i.e. November 2013).

Our practice when reviewing city petitions has been to exclude signatures that were entirely crossed out. In August 2012 we were provided with direction by the city of Vancouver to review signatures that were completely crossed out and legible. We then reviewed the petition pages which had been previously reviewed to examine those crossed-out legible signatures.

Our review of signatures on this petition took longer than it has in the past, in part because this was a very challenging petition; consequently we assigned only our most skilled staff to the task.

I am proud of the high quality and timely work the Elections Office staff did in reviewing signatures on this petition.

It is very unfortunate that a bad law has prevented registered voters in the city of Vancouver from petitioning their government. I trust this will be quickly corrected by a judge.

Greg Kimsey
is Clark County Auditor: 360-397-2078. Email: greg.kimsey@clark.wa.gov.