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Wednesday, March 8, 2006

The Legacy of Lori Sotelo

Posted by on March 8 at 17:41 PM

Think back to last November’s elections and you’ll probably remember Lori Sotelo. She’s the Republican party leader who challenged the legitimacy of nearly 2,000 King County voters just before election day, sowing a great deal of confusion and leading to charges that Sotelo was trying to suppress the Democratic vote when it turned out that hundreds of her challenges were faulty.

Well, today, thanks in large part to the leadership of State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), the legislature passed a bill to prevent any Sotelo-style shenanigans in the future. The bill, which Gov. Christine Gregoire’s is expected to sign into law soon, creates a 45-day challenge-free buffer zone before elections and requires people filing voter challenges in the future to do much more homework than Sotelo ever did.

More details in the jump, via a press release from the Senate Democratic Caucus…


Bill clarifying voter challenges on way to governor's desk

OLYMPIA After nearly 2,000 voter challenges were filed in King County before last fall's election and the resulting uproar that led to the eventual withdrawal of many of those challenges a bill sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, to clarify voter challenge procedures has cleared the Legislature with a single dissenting vote.
"Many of my constituents felt intimidated by challenges filed so close to the election,” Kohl-Welles said. "Some didn't vote because they feared they could be found guilty of fraud. We can't permit such abuses to happen again or anywhere else.”
Kohl-Welles represents the 36th Legislative District, where notices were sent to a sizeable number of residents, some of them in the Watermarke Apartments in Belltown, others living aboard their boats at Shilshole Marina in Ballard. Kohl-Welles said that many were upset both with having their registrations challenged, after years of voting with no hitches and with receiving their notifications within days of the election. Others were out of town when letters notifying them of the challenge arrived and were not able to attend a hearing to appeal.
"Kudos to the 36th District Democrats who conducted their own canvass to assess the legitimacy of the challenges and for assuring voters that they should cast their ballots,” Kohl-Welles said.
"I am grateful, too, to Representative Nixon for his assistance in helping to pass this bill so handily,” Kohl-Welles said. Nixon, a Republican, represents Kirkland.
Senate Bill 6362 makes a number of changes to the process and timeline for filing voter registration challenges:
∑ County auditors must publish the entire content of every voter registration challenge on the county's Web site within 72 hours of receipt. Auditors are required to notify anyone who requests to receive such notification.
∑ A challenger must file a signed affidavit, subject to the penalties of perjury, swearing that to his or her personal knowledge and belief, and having exercised due diligence, that the challenged voter:
o Is not qualified to vote based on existing constitutional requirements, or
o Does not reside at the address provided. The challenger must either:
ß List the challenged voter's actual address, or
ß Verify that the challenged voter does not reside at the address. This includes obtaining an affidavit from a person who owns, manages, resides or is employed at the address listed.
∑ The challenger must supply the factual basis for the challenge in the signed affidavit. A challenge may not be based on unsupported allegations or allegations made by third parties.
∑ A challenged voter may transfer registration or re-register until the day before the election.
∑ Only a poll site judge or inspector may file a challenge on Election Day. Only registrations of voters who present themselves to vote at the poll site are allowed to be challenged.
∑ Voter-initiated challenges may be filed at any time provided that:
o Challenges filed against a voter who registered to vote fewer than 60 days before the election, or who changed residence fewer than 60 days before the election and didn't transfer his or her registration, must be filed no later than 10 days before the election or within 10 days of the voter being added to the voter registration base, whichever is later.
o Challenges initiated against all other voters must be filed no later than 45 days before the election.
∑ The county auditor must provide notice of the challenge by certified mail to the challenged voter. If the challenge is based on the residential address, the auditor must give notice of exceptions to the residency requirement allowed by the Constitution and by statute, such as nontraditional address and excused absence from the state due to military service, college, prison and navigation of high seas.
∑ If the challenger fails to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the registration is improper, the challenge must be dismissed and the ballot must be counted.
∑ A voter who uses a nontraditional address for registration purposes must provide a valid mailing address and must meet the constitutional requirement that he or she has lived in the area for at least 30 days before the election. Motor homes and marinas are added to the existing list of examples of nontraditional addresses, which include shelters and parks. "Thomas Paine said that `The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected,'” Kohl-Welles said. "Our goal is make sure every legitimate vote counts and every illegitimate vote does not. Now we are well on our way to reaching that goal.”