Friday, February 17, 2006

Senate Supplemental Breaks the Bank

Today the senate passed its version of the supplemental budget. This budget takes a $1.4 billion surplus and turns it into a spending increase by more than 17 percent since the 2003-05 biennium.

This supplemental budget also spends $120 million more than the projected supplemental budget forecast and is in complete disregard for the I-601 spending limit.

The legislature has forgotten that the purpose of the supplemental budget. It should be reserved for unforeseen emergency spending. Ultimately, it should be revenue neutral if the state is following the Priorities of Government budget process since any new priorities would be offset by reductions in areas of lower priority. It's not intended to fund pork projects.

One of the more disappointing votes comes from Sen. Don Benton (R-Vancouver). Benton got a lot of pet projects for his district. Such pork likely influenced his liberal vote. Boo-hiss. For such a self-proclaimed truly-principled Republican, this is poor statesmanship. Instead of maintaining a conservative composure, Benton gave into the lust of political posture. I expect more from such a prominent member of the Senate Republican Caucus.

With Kastama and Sheldon’s nay votes, had Benton and Roach voted nay, the Senate’s version would have been defeated. I am beginning to wonder if Republicans are now just content with the minority role and have lost the drive to fight for it.
Do Washington Republican’s even know what they stand for?
Hey everyone, drinks are on Benton and Roach tonight--They think money is free!
ESSB 6386
Senate vote on 3rd Reading & Final Passage

Yeas: 26 Nays: 19 Absent: 0 Excused: 4
Voting Yea: Senators Benton, Berkey, Brown, Doumit, Eide, Fairley, Franklin, Fraser, Hargrove, Haugen, Jacobsen, Keiser, Kline, Kohl-Welles, McAuliffe, Poulsen, Prentice, Pridemore, Rasmussen, Regala, Roach, Rockefeller, Shin, Spanel, Thibaudeau, and Weinstein.

Voting Nay: Senators Benson, Brandland, Carrell, Delvin, Esser, Hewitt, Honeyford, Johnson, Kastama, Morton, Mulliken, Parlette, Pflug, Schmidt, Schoesler, Sheldon, Stevens, Swecker, and Zarelli.

Excused: Senators Deccio, Finkbeiner, McCaslin, and Oke.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Guest Opinion: Balloting rolls will be wrong until every voter in state registers again

Bellingham Herald print edition
By Matthew Cole, Guest Columnist
February 16, 2006

Have you ever experienced déjà vu?

It was February 2, 2005, when Secretary of State Sam Reed was touting his new election reform package, claiming, “The lessons learned from [the Governor’s race] will make our state's election system even stronger.”

Flash-forward to today: Reed is promising again to solve Washington’s election woes—this time with the release of his new statewide voter database.

Many election reformers were initially optimistic that this new database would clarify some of the confusion surrounding registered voters in the state. After all, Reed has been billing it as such for years now. Sadly, this is not the case.

A database can only be as good as the data it contains. The new voter database grandfathers in scores of deceased, duplicate and non-citizen voters. A quick query revealed that many birthdates are over a century old, many voters have two genders, and many more have multiple active registrations.

Reed acknowledged that the new voter database found at least 12,000 deceased persons registered to vote and as many as 36,000 voters registered twice—this is before any check for felons. The database does not even attempt to check for citizenship.

Separate checks by various watchdog groups showed that there are scores of registrations with obvious errors. Stefan Sharkansky of found 1,353 pairs of duplicate registrations where both entries match on first name, last name, birth date and exact address. Eighty-two percent of these names are in King County alone!

Reed maintains that these duplicate registered voters “are not casting two ballots.” Yet he admits that the vast majority of these cases have yet to be fully investigated. Worst of all, county auditors are already relying on the new voter database for their elections.

As bad as the situation seems, there is a solution. To restore credibility in our state elections system, all Washington voters must re-register, thus allowing the database to work off a clean voter roll. Voters should be required to provide proof of citizenship and show a photo ID in order to activate their registration.

Reed must also be transparent about the problems with the database and act quickly to identify illegal voters. As Washington’s chief elections officer, he is obliged to assist the counties in combating elections crime. Additionally, we should strengthen a county auditors’ duty to verify information on registration forms.

As it stands, the current statewide voter database provides no refuge to those seeking better election practices in Washington. In fact, the problem is made worse by creating a false impression that our elections system is fixed.

With the 2006 midterm elections looming, voter data must be correct. This can only be accomplished through re-registering all voters. Enacting this vital reform is a necessary step toward restoring integrity to Washington’s elections and preventing another Gregoire-Rossi déjà vu.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Guest opinion: New state voter database still has major problems

Lynden Tribune print edition
By Matthew Cole, Special to the Tribune
February 15, 2006

In classic political fashion, Secretary of State Same Reed spun the arrival of Washington’s version of the statewide voter database as “a breakthrough for the state” in election reform. Don’t do the happy dance just yet.

While Reed’s office claims that the new database is one of the most significant election reforms in recent history, for that claim to have value, the information within the database must be accurate and true. However, the new database grandfathers in scores of deceased, duplicate and non-citizen voters. A quick query revealed that many birthdates are over a century old, many voters have two genders, and many more have multiple active registrations.

If corrected, Reed’s database could be a useful tool for maintaining a clean voter roll, but it cannot create one. In its present form it is useless. An initial scan of the database found serious errors in over 15 percent of the 3.5 million voter registrations. If I do my math correctly, that’s around 525,000 registrations blundered. While it is unclear how long any of these registration have possessed such serious errors, let’s keep in mind that the 2004 governor’s race was decided by only 129 votes. Those numbers don’t do much to console those of us who are deeply concerned about Washington’s electoral integrity.

Furthermore, 458,000 voters statewide are listed in the wrong state legislative district—53,000 of these registrations have no precinct or district information at all! Beyond the 32,000 duplicate voters Reed acknowledges finding, researchers at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation found 11,715 more by checking for people with the same birthdate and identical addresses. Many of these duplicate voters have slightly different names due to either fraud or clerical error.

And that’s not all, scores more have incorrect gender listed, there are hundreds of under-age registrations and thousands more registered deceased people, and non-citizen voters.

Bad registrations aren’t the only problem with the voter database. In the aftermath of the messy 2000 presidential election, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which required all states to create a statewide voter registration database by January 1, 2006. While Reed claims that this database has been in the works years before HAVA, the official database was not released to the public until January 31, 2006, nearly a month after the deadline.

With the current set-up of the database, non-citizens, federal felons and many duplicate registrations will never be found. As it stands, the statewide voter database is hardly the “breakthrough” that it has been hyped to be.

This database has enormous potential for becoming an effective tool in Washington’s elections; but a database is only as good as the data it contains. For the new voter database, that means changing the way elections officials gather the information.

To restore credibility in our state elections system, Reed should place all voters on an inactive status and require them to update their registrations. Voters should be required to provide proof of citizenship and show a photo ID in order to activate their registration. Anyone failing to do so would be able to vote a provisional ballot.

Additionally, we should clarify and strengthen a county auditor’s duty to verify information on a registration form.

Only by conducting a 100 percent new registration that requires voters to register in their legal name, provide proof of citizenship and identification will we be able to trust the voter database.

Right now, the current statewide voter database provides no refuge to those seeking better election practices in Washington. With the 2006 midterms looming, voter data must be correct. Requiring all voters to reactivate their registrations is one of the best ways to make the database accurate. It is a necessary step for restoring integrity to Washington’s elections.