(The Center Square) – Volunteers with the Washington Voter Research Project say they were “shocked” to be the focus of a recent canvassing warning issued by Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton.
WVRP was established last year to make sure registered voters in Spokane County and elsewhere are alive and reside in Washington.
“Our goal is to ensure that our votes are not just “counted,” but also to ensure that they are not “cancelled” by fraud, incompetence, or other problems which can often occur in any complex, government-run, bureaucratic system,” said Morgan, founder of the group.
“Voting integrity is a worthy goal for all people who care about our fundamental right to vote.”
The role of WVRP’s is simple, and yet not simple at all, Morgan said. He explained sometimes the physical address listed by a voter turns out to be an empty field. At other times, the person has been deceased for more than a decade yet has been returning a ballot in every election since the funeral.
Occasionally, there is only one person residing at the address, but numerous ballots are being sent there, Morgan said.
“We are trying to give our fellow voters confidence in our election systems and processes,” said Dennis Hawxhurst, one of the WVRP volunteers in Spokane County.
They both said that most voters approached by teams from the group have been positive about their efforts to keep elections honest.
“We are told a lot, ‘I hope this helps,’” said Morgan.
More often than he would like, Morgan said a person tells visiting WVRP teams that he or she has been trying unsuccessfully to stop the ballots of a deceased love one from arriving each year.
Morgan is a known personality in conservative-leaning government accountability circles. He is the executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights and was affiliated with the Freedom Foundation from 2011 to 2015.
In 2016, Morgan founded We the Governed, an organization to help government whistleblowers get the word out.
The We the Governed website advertises “660 complaints filed with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) or Ethics Board,” leading to over $611,000 in fines for “77 politicians, judges, and PACs fined, +122 others caught and formally sanctioned.”
Morgan established WVRP to start getting citizens more engaged in the elections process. Through training, they learn to get lists of people who have moved from the U.S. Postal Service and those who have died from the Social Security Administration.
All these sources are public records and the same information is used for verification by election officials, he said.
Names from these lists are then cross-checked with each county’s voter registration data. Names, addresses, and whether the voter returned a ballot in an election is public record, he said.
If anomalies are found when the lists are compared, a volunteer team visits the address to confirm that the person truly resides there – or is still alive. Morgan said the work done by volunteers is crucial to ensure that voter fraud is not taking place.
“What we have found is that you can’t always trust the lists, you have to go out there and verify some information,” he said.
For example, a small team of volunteers canvassed Thurston County in 2021 to check out about 1,491 addresses. They spoke to the occupants of 1,231 of these addresses and obtained information on 3,746 voters. From that work, a total of 2,164 voters were found to have moved but were still registered at their previous address.
“We identified 601 voters who moved out more than 30 days before the November 2020 election, and yet still cast a vote in that election from their previous address,” the organization wrote in a report to Thurston County elections officials. “We identified an additional 35 voters who moved out more than 30 days before the August 2021 primary, and still voted in that election from their previous address. We also identified seven voters who were deceased but still registered to vote.”
When a problem is found, Morgan said that information is relayed to the auditor’s office in the affected county so elected officials can do their own investigations.
Morgan said most counties don’t have enough staff to canvas so they are appreciative of the efforts being done by WVRP volunteers. So it was surprising to have Dalton issue what appeared to be a “hostile” notice about the work done by local teams.
In April, Dalton released a statement that residents are under no obligation to provide information to someone who comes to their door to canvas.
“It is perfectly within your right to refuse to answer any questions from someone you do not know and/or trust,” she said.
She said the auditor’s office does not go door-to-door to obtain information and does not have jurisdiction to authorize groups to do so.
“No Spokane County Auditor employee will ever ask a voter for information about who or what they voted for,” said Dalton.
“Neither do we,” Morgan said. “We don’t ever present ourselves as part of the auditor’s office – we don’t ask how people voted. We introduce ourselves as volunteers who are just trying to protect our elections by verifying information that is already public.”
Dalton acknowledged in her notice that canvassing for and with voter information is legal under state law.
Anyone claiming to know which candidates or issue someone voted for is not being truthful, she said. All votes are completely secret. All ballots are separated from any identifying information before they are counted. Third parties do not know how someone voted.
Nor does WVRP want to, Morgan said.
According to Dalton, the local elections office Spokane County Elections Office is diligent in maintaining the voter rolls for 350,000 registered voters.
Dalton is Spokane County’s lone elected Democrat. She has served since 1998 in that role.
Morgan said every election office, including in Spokane County, is hard-pressed to perform all required duties and still manages to verify the addresses and status of voters.
“It isn’t glamorous work, it’s not exciting – in fact, it’s a bit tedious – but I think it’s useful and necessary,” he said.
Morgan said the WVRP’s report about the accuracy of Spokane County’s voter rolls is being prepared and will be released in the near future.
He said WVRP now has assistance from data experts who can study statistical anomalies in voting patterns to further pinpoint areas of potential fraud.