By Matthys Van Leeuwen
The residents of Burien have voiced their opinions, and it seems that in this year’s election, their voices carry decisive weight. Typically, approximately 50 percent of the votes are evenly distributed across different precincts on election night. From a scientific standpoint, these initial results should reasonably reflect the final outcome, especially when there is only a 1 to 2 percent difference. This pattern generally holds true when examining results from other local elections in King County, such as Kirkland, Sammamish, or Enumclaw. The science of polling suggests that a small sample can provide a clear and indicative prediction of the ultimate result. When 50 percent of the actual vote is evenly collected from various precincts, it constitutes a robust polling approach.
However, since the 2017 election, there have been significant and consistently one-directional swings in the City of Burien. The explanation provided is that progressives tend to vote later. Is it plausible that procrastination and progressiveness are linked? This notion raises skepticism, particularly when observing swings among progressive candidates. For instance, in the primary, Cydney Moore swung to the second position, displacing Rut Perez in the days following election day – both being progressive candidates. In the 2021 election, progressive candidate Sarah Moore did not experience the swing, whereas another progressive candidate, Hugo Garcia, achieved the swing necessary to tip the election in his favor.
As a scientist and former auditor, these patterns are perplexing, and, in fact, raise a red flag. This prompted me to attempt an audit of the 2021 election, only to find that elections in Washington State are not auditable. Simultaneously, I uncovered several loopholes that could account for these swings. Loopholes, legal methods to circumvent the law for better results, are akin to those in international taxation that I explored in my thesis. While some loopholes are eventually closed over time, new ones emerge. It seems lawmakers intentionally leave room for loopholes in election laws, which raises questions about their purpose.
Let’s delve deeper into the loopholes in the election process. Taking care of an elderly neighbor goes beyond merely checking on her; it involves tasks like collecting her mail, often including delivering items to the Post Office. On one occasion, she entrusted me with her ballot to drop off, which I did on a Monday. However, concerns arose later about whether it would reach the Election Office in time. Although I second-guessed myself for not utilizing the ballot box, checking the ballot status reassured me that it had been counted. This situation revealed a potential loophole. What if the ballot had been dropped in the mailbox after 8 PM PST on Tuesday? The postage-prepaid envelope used for returning the ballot lacks a timestamp, making it challenging for the Election Office to determine when it was deposited.
Another scenario involves a friend providing me with three signed but unfilled ballots. Contemplating the legality, I sought advice from ChatGPT, which, while a bit hesitant, essentially indicated it was acceptable to fill them out. This train of thought led me to recognize the essence of ballot harvesting.
Ballot harvesting extends beyond simply dropping off a neighbor’s ballot at the Post Office. In this process, the voter essentially cedes the right to vote to the harvester, compromising the foundational principle of one person, one vote—a clear loophole in election law. The challenge arises in controlling the number of harvested ballots, as it cannot be easily monitored. In contrast, my home country employs a different approach, where voters receive a call to vote and obtain their ballot at the polling station. They can bring a maximum of three authorizations from others. These authorized calls to vote essentially parallel harvested ballots, and the voter relinquishes control over what the permittee does with it at the poll. Interestingly, in my home country, a politician’s call for others to vote on behalf of those unable to do so themselves was deemed undesirable by the Electoral Council and labeled as vote pandering. The Secretary proposed amending the law to increase the penalty for vote pandering from one month to six months of jail time!
In the U.S., calling out vote pandering is considered obstructing people’s right to vote, a criminal act. Let’s refer to ballot harvesting as effectively utilizing a loophole for the sake of political correctness. This leads to a contemplation on why certain candidates, especially in closely contested elections, experience swings. What if a political organization maintains a roster of voters who consistently surrender signed, unfilled ballots that they deploy after initial results and deposit in mailboxes to support candidates requiring assistance to sway the outcome? This would be an effective use of an available loophole.
Interestingly, an ongoing lawsuit filed by three nonprofits challenges the state’s practice of disqualifying ballots due to signature mismatches, deeming it unconstitutional. If successful, this lawsuit could equate ballot harvesting to dumpster diving, eliminating the need for signed ballots and allowing retrieval of discarded ones.
Burien is not just adopting Seattle policies but also mirroring Seattle’s election result trends. In Seattle City District 2, Tanya Woo led with over 54% on election night, yet three days later, she trails her opponent Tammy Morales by 300 votes. Conversely, in the City of Kirkland, the percentage of votes for all candidates has remained relatively consistent. Fortunately, statistical patterns are maintaining their integrity in Kirkland – a fact that is crucial, particularly considering the city is home to a substantial Google office.