Charges for vote fraud? Depends on where you live in Washington

A KING 5 investigation found widespread election fraud is rare, but one-time violators face unequal justice.

SEATTLE – As voting season comes to an end, some election offices are turning their attention to a number of questionable ballots that were cast. Some cases may be referred to the police or prosecutors for further investigation.

For Dennis Herron, of Lewis County, that process resulted in a felony conviction in 2021.

The 79-year-old returned from burying his wife Carolyn, who died of cancer, and voted in the 2020 presidential election. When questioned by the police chief, he admitted to filling it out. ballot and forged her signature.

“When you lose someone you’ve spent your life with, you don’t always make the right choices,” Herron told KING 5 News on his porch in Randle.

While Herron is not in jail, he is currently a felon and has lost some rights.

According to data analyzed by KING 5 Investigators, Herron might not have paid so dearly had he lived in another part of the state.

There have been 42 voter-related criminal cases filed in Washington state since 2007, according to a database filed by the Washington State Courts Administrative Office at the request of KING 5, where record keeping of most court systems in the state.

Per capita, the county with the most lawsuits in Washington state is Lewis, which has charged eight cases of election fraud — at least three of which have been dismissed. Lewis County is about 20 miles south of Olympia.

Prosecutor-elect Jonathan Meyer defends prosecutions, especially when conduct is clearly “intentional” as in the case of Herron.

“The community feels that we will not tolerate that kind of activity in our county,” Meyer said.

In King County, elected prosecutor Dan Satterberg took the opposite approach.

King, a county with more than 1.3 million voters, has charged just nine election-related cases in the past 15 years.

“To me, putting these things in front of a judge to use criminal justice resources is really overkill,” Satterberg said of most of the vote-rigging cases that the office of he witnessed.

If an election fraud case appears to be isolated, Satterberg’s office usually sends out a warning letter instead of prosecution. For example, in the November 2020 presidential election, King County Elections officers forwarded to prosecutors 22 questionable ballots cast on behalf of those who died before the ballot was cast. sent to voters. The warning letters, sent to the same mailing address where the deceased voter lived, said “records show that the voter passed away prior to the date the county issued the ballot, indicating that someone was forged a voter’s signature.” The letter warned that “intentionally violating these laws is a crime.”

The letters for the November 2020 election were sent out last month. Satterberg could not explain the lengthy delay.

In all the counties we examined, elections offices canceled voter registrations of voters who were confirmed deceased. No fraudulent ballots were added to the election results.

KING 5 visited some of the 22 homes that sent out warning letters. At least one widow claims that her late husband voted and signed his ballot while he was lying in bed.

“He scribbled on it. He doesn’t have his exact signature,” Cindi Khalsa said.

Her husband, Sada Simran Khalsa, died of COVID-19 on October 1, 2020. She said the signature on his ballot may not match the signature on file at the election office because of him. too sick.

When informed that county election records indicated that ballots were not mailed until October 14, two weeks after her husband died in the hospital, Khalsa returned.

“Are they claiming that the ballots were not taken?” Khalsa asked when he realized the evidence against him. “I don’t know. I know that I asked him to sign something.”

In subsequent emails to KING 5, Khalsa confessed that she filled out her husband’s ballot. Khalsa said she was under stress.

Khalsa said: “You didn’t tell me until yesterday that I realized I had committed voter fraud.

Khalsa is lucky she is in King County, where the prosecutor’s warning letter says “The Prosecutor’s Office has no intention of taking any further action in this matter.”

In Lewis County, Herron wasn’t so lucky.

Satterberg said he made the decision in 2007 to switch to warning letters rather than prosecution after witnessing sympathetic victims, like an elderly widow, being dragged to court.

“In my office, I have 235 murders that need a jury. Do I want to charge someone for voting for their deceased spouse? And put that right along with the other cases and try to take it to court,” Satterberg asked.

“In Lewis County, if we see a violation of the law, we will press charges. I think that’s the reputation we have,” Meyer said.

The Lewis County Prosecutor said his decisions were unrelated to the current political climate.

“We don’t let what’s going on in the media try to influence what we do,” Meyer said.

It’s not just election-related cases. For example, his office will file charges of “driving with a license suspended,” an allegation that some other jurisdictions have ignored because of its impact on poor citizens.

Most of the 42 cases in the state court database involved single vote fraud: a person living and voting in two states; someone has received someone else’s ballot and voted with it; A thief stole mail including ballots.

However, there is a case in Washington in which several people were charged in an organized fraud attempt.

In 2007, five people were convicted in King County court of falsifying names during a voter registration campaign. They are paid signature collectors employed by an organization called ACORN.

“But they sat in their hotel room, drank beer, took the directory, opened it, and started filling out their voter registration forms with names they found in the directory,” Satterberg said.

He pointed out that election officers caught cheating and turned over evidence to the prosecutor’s office, and that the defendants were not politically motivated. They simply want more signatures to earn more money.

Satterberg said there is a fine line between a single instance of voter fraud and those where there is an organized or widespread attempt to influence elections. He said organized fraudsters would go to jail, just like the ACORN defendants did.

There is one area where both prosecutors completely agree. Pervasive voter fraud is rare, and both believe their counties have done a good job protecting the sanctity of the ballot.

“There will always be some cases of electoral fraud, but I think those cases are few and far between when you look at the number of votes cast,” Meyer said.

“The key story is that there is no evidence of any widespread voter fraud,” says Satterberg. Charges for vote fraud? Depends on where you live in Washington

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