Election officials in Clark, King and Spokane counties have received complaints this year about ballot box surveillance and canvassers asking about voter registration status or who people plan to vote for.
These activities are part of a growing trend of citizens seeking out election fraud among other citizens and have prompted reasonable reactions from individuals, organizations and agencies.
The U.S. Department of Justice, for one, has issued warnings that this type of activity could be viewed as intimidation, and in July, Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs reminded voters that “no county auditor, no county government, not the secretary of state’s office would ever go to your house to find out how you voted or if you’re a voter.”
Claims of the existence of widespread election fraud have consistently been repudiated by officials in elections offices in Washington and throughout the country, and dozens of court cases and investigations back that up. It is a sad reality that these workers have faced increasing threats since the 2020 election, prompting large-scale resignations and fears for the safety of remaining co-workers.
As Nov. 8 nears, consider this a brush-up on your rights as a voter and laws governing the election process.
With Washington’s transparent voting system, anyone has the right to observe the election process. But officials also have the right to make restrictions for space and safety concerns where ballots are counted.
Nor is it illegal for someone to observe ballot boxes. But signs near drop boxes stating the boxes are “under surveillance” have been repudiated by both major political parties because the language suggests a suspicion of illicit activity.
As the Voting Rights Act established, voter intimidation is illegal. And the U.S. Department of Justice offers a clear definition of what voter intimidation looks like: Verbal threats; confronting voters while wearing military-style or official-looking uniforms; spreading false information about voter fraud, voting requirements, or related criminal penalties; brandishing firearms; and aggressively approaching voters’ vehicles or writing down voters’ license plate numbers.
The more neutral system of making use of “election observers” has long been an option in Washington as a part of a healthy democratic process, and both parties participate in it.
To be an election observer, a resident first must take county-provided training. Political parties and nonpartisan groups, including the League of Women Voters, often supply observers to the local Elections Office, a practice Clark County officials welcome for its demonstration of transparency.
In fact, local elections officials recommend becoming a trained observer is the best remedy for individuals who doubt the system’s integrity. Participating in that service helps people see the controls that are in place, they explained.
The League often staffs tables in public places to encourage people to register to vote, and many canvassing groups go door to door to drum up support for their candidate. These practices are all legal.
But it should be noted that sharing information is always voluntary. The League will never ask you who you are voting for — or tell you to vote for a particular candidate. And if a partisan group asks, you can always decline to answer and refuse to share information.
These rules stem from times when voter intimidation was rampant: The 1960s, when the original Voting Rights Act was passed; and following the Civil War, with the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Acts designed to quell violence against Americans of color.
Any voter who feels intimidated or unsafe should phone 911 and the Elections Office at 564-397-2345.
Nancy Halvorson is president of the League of Women Voters of Clark County.