Down the rabbit hole of requesting mail-in ballots for the March 26, 2019 Whatcom Conservation District board supervisor election / Facebook post, Sj Robson

https://survey.whatcomcd.org/limesurvey/index.php/62682?newtest=Y&lang=en

February 6, 2019 Sandy Robson

First, and most importantly, the deadline for requesting mail-in ballots for the WCD election is February 8, 2019, by 4:00 PM. Here is a link to request a mail-in ballot. https://www.whatcomcd.org/board-elections

What follows is my rabbit hole report: This afternoon, February 6, I called the Whatcom County Auditor’s office to confirm exactly how my name is listed on my voter registration for Washington state. The reason I did that was because I had seen a friend’s Facebook post today reminding people to request a mail-in ballot from the Whatcom Conservation District (WCD) for its upcoming March 26 district supervisor board election.

I had already requested a mail in ballot from the WCD a number of weeks ago, but in re-reading the information on the WCD’s website about requesting a mail-in ballot, I noticed it stated the following: 
“**All information provided on the following page must match your Whatcom County Voter Registration or you may not receive a ballot in the mail.** You can verify your Voter Registration at the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office.” 

It caused me to wonder if the name I provided on my mail-in ballot request matched exactly with how my voter registration name is listed, and I wanted to make sure, so that I would receive a ballot. That prompted my to call the Auditor’s office (360-778-5100) to inquire about how my name reads on my voter registration.

I was told by a staff person in the Auditor’s Office that my name on my voter registration included my full middle name, not just my middle initial. I asked her if there was any other way voters could check on their voter registration information and she said people can use the website www.myvote.wa.gov.

After I hung up, I went to the MyVote website and saw that my name is listed there as “Sandra Robson” and does not include my middle name which I had been told by the Auditor’s office was on my voter registration. The Auditor’s office staff person also had told me that for each WCD board supervisor election, the Auditor provides the WCD a voter list.

I then called the WCD extension for Dawn Bekenyi (360-526-2381 x101), who manages the election process for the WCD. A staff person answered that extension and I explained that I wanted to check to see exactly what name I provided when I submitted my online mail-in ballot request since according to the WCD website, it stated the name has to match the information on your voter registration. She said she had to have their IT person check and she would call me back. I let her know that the Auditor’s office informed me that my name on my voter registration includes my middle name. 

The WCD staff person called back shortly after to tell me that my online submission for a WCD mail-in ballot had my name listed with my middle initial. She said that they (IT) have changed it now to reflect my middle name as I said that’s how the Auditor told me my voter registration reads. 

I voiced my opinion that WCD’s stipulation that “all information must match your Whatcom County Voter Registration” is likely to cause some mail-in ballot requestors’ requests to be rejected if those are even slightly different than the voter registration. 

She pointed out that it states on the WCD website, if requestors don’t receive their ballots by March 15, to call the WCD office for a replacement ballot. She also said this 2019 WCD election is the first time the WCD has stipulated that all the information on the online mail-in ballot request must match voter registration. She said they did that because of some particular complaint/s regarding last year’s election. 

I believe it’s likely this new change was a result of local, Republican operative Bruce Ayers’ complaint he made in April 2018 to the Washington State Conservation Commission concerning the March 13, 2018 WCD election, in his many efforts at that time to try to get then-WCD board supervisor Larry Helm re-elected. Helm is the state committeeman for Whatcom Republicans. Ultimately, the March 13, 2018 election results were certified, and Helm was not re-elected. 

I responded that it seems confusing because the WCD website states that the only ways to request a mail-in ballot are via online or in-person, and the agency will not take requests via phone. However, apparently, if people haven’t received a mail-in ballot they are supposed to call the WCD to request a replacement. 

She explained that they don’t do telephone ballot requests in order to save staff time. I said that I figured that to be the reason, but that it would save even more staff time if the WCD would create a list of voters who wish to receive ballots and those people would be sent those for each election. Then people who already requested mail-in ballots wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of requesting those every year. The idea that the county conservation districts could create lists of voters who have already requested ballots is based on my understanding from speaking in 2015 (via phone) with Washington State Conservation Commission elections officer Bill Eller. The WCD staff person said that makes sense. I asked the staff person to relay my comments to her supervisor.

It should be noted that the WCD website states: “Requests for replacements cannot be honored after March 20. After this date you can only come on Election Day to cast your vote.” 

So, if you requested a mail-in ballot, and you don’t receive it by March 15, you then only have until March 20 to call or drop by the WCD to request a replacement ballot. Well, March 15th is a Friday, so March 16th and 17th are weekend days when the WCD office is closed, which means that, in reality, people then only have 3 days during which they can contact the WCD to request a replacement ballot be mailed to them. 

From following the WCD board supervisor election process closely for the last several years, it is clear to me that the way in which the WCD has been running its elections, even after making slight improvements, still continues to present numerous obstacles to voters who may want to vote in the annual WCD elections. 

The biggest obstacle being that voters in Washington state, a vote by mail state, are used to automatically being sent mail-in ballots without having to request those, so this WCD election is problematic right out of the gate. That’s especially true in the case of an obscure election such as the WCD election. 

Our state legislators need to propose a new law that would change the way WCD elections are run because since Washington state, in 2011, became a vote by mail state, voters are now conditioned to expect their ballots to be mailed automatically to them. The manner in which the WCD election is currently being run has the effect of suppressing voters.

Read Sandy’s post on her Facebook page here.

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