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Watchdog Group Pursues Audit of Spokane County Election System

(The Center Square) – A citizen watchdog group lost its bid to have Spokane County perform a comprehensive audit of its election system but plans to continue pushing for that to happen.

“We are not trying to say that fraud has occurred or that anything has been done wrong, but questions have been raised and need to be addressed to restore voter confidence,” said Dennis Hawxhurst, a member of the Election Integrity Committee that was formed by the Spokane Republican Party.

For example, he said Spokane County had 353,926 registered voters and 382,560 ballots for the 2020 election.

He said being told by Mark McClain, attorney for the county commission, that local officials did not have the authority to perform the audit is not going to stop the quest for answers.

“There are people working on this at the state and national levels – not to change past elections but to make sure the system is secure going forward,” said Hawxhurst.

He was joined in presenting a case for the audit to the commissioners on June 20 by Matt Hawkins, the local party’s state committeeman, and Tom Barnhart, a member of the committee.

Hawkins disagreed with McClain’s assessment of the county’s authority over an audit. He said state law gave local government leaders stewardship over the integrity of elections within their jurisdiction.

“My perception is that the public is recognizing there is a complete loss of integrity in the system, and someone needs to start standing up for the voters,” he said.

He, Barnhart and Hawxhurst turned in a petition to support the audit request that had been signed by nearly 200 people. The county GOP supported the petition, as did 4th Legislative District Reps. Rob Chase and Bob McCaslin. McCaslin is running for county auditor, the office that oversees local elections and is currently run by Vicky Dalton, a Democrat.

The petition calls for a thorough inspection by a third party of the county’s entire elections process. Everything including the software and hardware of tabulation machines, ballot distribution and collection procedures should be reviewed, said Hawkins.

“We believe in the adage, ‘Trust but verify,’” he said.

There also need to be an explanation, he said, about why there are not cameras in all areas of the election operations center to record ballot processing activity, something done even in heavily populated King County.

Hawxhurst said the discrepancy in registered voter numbers is even more concerning given the Washington Voter Research Project’s recent canvassing effort. Volunteers found that 90% of properties in Spokane County that were visited had anomalies, most involving more registered voters than residents.

He said more information about the problems that were found would be provided at a later date.   

Dalton was present at last week’s meeting. She told the commissioners that she plans to review and respond to issues raised in the petition.

She explained the differential between the number of registered voters and ballots cast. She said voter numbers are estimates from state’s Office of Financial Management based on census counts. She agreed the Secretary of State’s Office needed to review those numbers.

However, Dalton said there was a simple explanation for why there could be more ballots. She said voters can print a new ballot if they make a mistake or for some other reason. However, each ballot is individually identified so when a new one is printed, the old is invalidated so the person can’t vote multiple times.

“We’re only going to count one,” she said.

She also explained that auditor offices constantly update their registration records using information from the Department of Licensing, VoteWA, death certificates, newspaper obituaries and other sources. Still, people don’t always update their voter registration when they move, which is why canvassers might find ballots going to properties where people no longer live.

She pointed out that members of the armed forces, missionaries and other individuals living abroad can have different mailing and voting addresses. For instance, if Spokane residents join the Air Force and serve overseas, they can continue voting in local elections even if they don’t live in Spokane. They can’t vote in multiple jurisdictions, but a military member could vote in Spokane for decades while living elsewhere.

The commissioners told both Dalton and the Election Integrity Committee members that they looked forward to receiving more information.