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Updated Monday, November 5, 2012 at 11:01 AM

Complaints follow Republicans' offer to deliver voters' ballots

By Sandi Doughton and Brian m. Rosenthal
Seattle Times staff reporters

With time running out before Tuesday's ballot deadline, a Republican get-out-the-vote effort has flared into a minor kerfuffle, with both major parties crying foul.

The "GOP Victory Van program," announced last week, includes nine vans where voters can submit their ballots. Party staffers promise to deliver them to official county ballot drop-off centers.

Volunteers and paid employees from the Republican party organizations of King County and Washington state also have been knocking on the doors of likely Republican voters who haven't cast their ballots yet. They have been offering to answer questions, and to help fill out and deliver ballots to drop-off centers.

Republicans say the effort is just part of a bigger push to turn out voters, typical of every election.

While not illegal, the offer to deliver ballots inflamed Democrats and caused some residents to raise concerns with King County Elections Director Sherril Huff. On Sunday, King County Executive Dow Constantine — a Democrat — joined Huff at a Seattle news conference, urging residents to safeguard their franchise.

"We are strongly advising citizens if they want to be sure their ballot is counted, don't hand your ballot over to someone you don't know," Constantine said.

There are no rules against collecting and delivering ballots for other people, Huff said. The concern is that informal ballot collectors can't offer the same degree of security as the Postal Service or county election sites. The best way to ensure your ballot will be counted is to mail it or drop it off at an official voting site, she said.

Secretary of State Sam Reed — a Republican — and state elections co-director Katie Blinn both said they strongly discourage ballot-collection efforts. The state has regulations for ballot drop sites, for emptying ballot boxes and for transporting ballots, Blinn said in an email. "A political party is not going to necessarily employ those safety procedures," she wrote.

Benton Strong, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said the tactic "seems like an unnecessary opportunity for fraud."

Republicans say they're baffled by the response. "It's our job to make sure our voters vote," said Lori Sotelo, chairwoman of the King County Republicans.

In the old days, party operatives would pick up the faithful and drive them to the polling place. This is simply a modern version of that, Sotelo said, driven by new technology that allows parties to track which voters have cast their ballots. All of the workers carry identification and contact information for the party.

Given that workers are collecting ballots from likely Republican households, the party has every incentive to get them to the ballot box safely. "These votes are precious as you can imagine," Sotelo said.

The vans were set up in areas lacking official drop boxes, said state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur. "A lot of the drop boxes are in the city of Seattle, and not many of them are in the suburbs where the Republican voters are," said Wilbur, who accused Democrats of hypocrisy and exploiting the issue for political gain.

It's common for churches and community groups to gather and deliver ballots. The liberal Seattle newspaper The Stranger hosted a voting party last month, where participants could fill out their ballots, leave them in the "exxxtra secure ballot box" and enjoy cocktails.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.


ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Cindi Vance, a temporary election worker, picks up a ballot at an official King County ballot drop-off van at West Seattle Stadium on Sunday. The site will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday.




ERIKA SCHULTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
King County Executive Dow Constantine, left, and Elections Director Sherril Huff talk Sunday in West Seattle about the most secure ways to return ballots.




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