Monday, November 28, 2022
Nov. 28, 2022

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3rd District candidates Kent, Perez weigh in on vote-by-mail

Perez defends vote-by-mail; Kent seeks its end

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District candidates believe America’s democracy is under threat. Both nod to conversations surrounding mail-in voting as the harbinger of this danger.

After Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump, claims that the election wasn’t legitimate pervaded both local and national politics. Although exhaustive analyses have debunked the claims of election fraud, the theory persists.

Two years later, Republican candidate Joe Kent is among those continuing to breathe life into the Big Lie — the theory that former President Donald Trump won the election — by questioning the legitimacy of mail-in voting and ballot counting. In an interview with The Columbian, the candidate said he does not believe Biden won the election. Kent said he has more questions than answers surrounding Biden’s success.

“I think the big threat to democracy is people not trusting the election system. It’s a big issue,” Kent said, later touching on his support for election audits. He said he welcomes future analyses for Washington’s 3rd Congressional District race in November.

In Kent’s eyes, the perfect solution is to dissolve mail-in voting and, instead, establish two federal holidays so people can vote in person. He said he also wants tighter standards to verify voters’ identity and citizenship.

Editor’s note

This story was prompted by Clark Asks, The Columbian’s reader-guided reporting project. Readers submitted questions for us to ask of congressional candidates, including questions about mail-in voting and the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. To submit your own question, visit The Columbian’s Clark Asks feature at Columbian.com/Clark-Asks.

On the other hand, Democratic candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez asserts that this rhetoric serves as the fabric of the threat being discussed.

“This is a guy who wants to dismantle mail-in voting, which — let’s be very clear — is the most safe and secure safeguard in our democracy,” she said. “There has been no credible evidence of any significant fraud in our elections.”

Perez rallied behind voting by mail, calling it the gold standard in election security and engagement. Without this means of casting one’s vote, she said, those who live in rural areas or can’t afford to take time off work would be excluded from the polls.

Kent remains firmly skeptical.

If people’s election security qualms go unaddressed, he said, they will act to make their voice heard.

“If we disenfranchise people, people think, ‘Hey, my government is not going to hear me at the ballot box, so I have to make my government hear me or express my grievances,’ ” Kent said, while rejecting violence.

He was one of the 34 plaintiffs named in a lawsuit filed by the Washington Election Integrity Coalition United against Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey, which was dismissed Sept. 30 by a federal court judge. The nonprofit group has filed a series of election fraud lawsuits in multiple counties related to the 2020 general election.

No election deception

Washington election laws have been developed for more than 30 years to create a secure, transparent and accountable vote-by-mail election, Kimsey said.

“Voters in Clark County should have a very high level of confidence in the integrity of the election administration process,” he said.

Washington is one of eight states that currently uses universal mail-in voting, meaning ballots are automatically mailed to all registered voters. Many other states allow voters to request an absentee ballot if they wish to vote by mail.

There is no evidence that mail-in balloting increases fraud in elections, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit law and policy institute at New York University. There are numerous security measures to prevent fraud from occurring, which are found in all its components — from the ballot envelope itself to secure drop-box locations.

A majority of Washington voters trust this voting system, too.

A 2022 SurveyUSA poll found that 71 percent of voters within the state said they have a high or moderate trust in Washington’s voting system. But it may vary on their political ideology. Participants who identified as conservative were three times likelier to distrust voting by mail, according to the poll.

The primary protection featured on a ballot envelope is found within its signature box, Kimsey said. Trained individuals carefully compare signatures on the envelope to the signature on record for that voter; however, as long as there are humans voting in and administering elections, there will be errors.

Most often, these errors relate to signature discrepancies or voters not properly marking their ballot. Boxes may be circled or ticked instead of being filled in correctly, and marks may be made with something other than a blue or black pen.

But there is an adjudication process that can correct this.

As a “voter intent” state, Washington employs efforts to ensure votes count regardless of whether a ballot is marked in a way that doesn’t correspond with provided directions. For example, if someone forgets to sign their ballot or the signature does not match voter registration records, an Elections Office worker will contact the voter and tell them how the issue can be resolved, Kimsey said.

Ballot processing is only done by trained employees at the Elections Office. The League of Women Voters and the Democratic and Republican parties provide volunteers to observe ballot collection and processing.

There are also members of the public who assume this role, which has made some voters uncomfortable, Kimsey said.

If any activity at ballot drop boxes makes voters uneasy, they should contact law enforcement or the Elections Office. For any questions related to Clark County’s election processes, contact Kimsey at 564-397-2078 or greg.kimsey@clark.wa.gov.

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