John Marshall is a former small business owner and was a Con Committee member for the Prop 5 tax levy.
Whatcom County’s November 8th election was certified on November 29th, despite opposition. The Proposition 5 “Yes for Whatcom Kids!” campaign submitted a last-minute surge of votes that came in following a ballot ‘curing’ process. This is a tax levy that will collect at least $82 million from county residents over the next 10 years.
So, what is ballot curing? ‘Curing’ is a process to find registered voters whose ballots were rejected due to an error such as: lack of a valid signature, lack of a date, or unverifiable signature on the ballot envelope. Once these voters are found, the cause for the rejection can be explained and repaired (cured) and the ‘cured’ ballots can be re-submitted to the auditor for acceptance and tallying.
The “Yes for Whatcom Kids,” used this process to canvas the county and match voters to rejected ballots, then questioned the “rejected” voters about Prop 5. If the voter indicated they had voted Yes on Prop 5, the voter was informed their ballot had been rejected and offered the opportunity to have their ballot accepted and counted. One can assume that only pro- Prop 5 voters would be informed about their rejected ballot and the ability to ‘cure’ them and that No voters were not treated to the same opportunity.
When a “Yes for Prop 5,” campaign member was asked if they used any of their $221,104.32 in campaign contributions to pay for teams of vote- curers, I received no response. If campaign funds were used, that must be reported to the PDC report, so I will be reviewing their report for signs of a ‘paid’ curing effort.
For historical value, the “Yes on Prop 5” tax levy did not obtain enough signatures to place it on the ballot. Then, the Whatcom County Council intervened using the indirect initiative process and placed it on the 2022 General Election ballot. Initially, as timely ballots were verified and counted, the ‘No’ on Prop 5 had 2,284 more votes than‘Yes’ on Prop 5.
But, Prop 5 did pass with twenty-votes. At the Canvassing Board’s certification meeting, Whatcom County Auditor Diane Bradrick commented that the number of late, ‘cured ballots,’ was unprecedented and the reason the ballot measure passed. There was no vote-curing effort by the ‘No on Prop 5,’ and no local-media covered how this comeback was achieved through vote curing.
Whatcom County has a Canvassing Board whose function is to supervise the election process and protect our votes. They also certify our elections. Whatcom’s Canvassing Board is comprised of: Whatcom County Auditor Diane Bradrick, a representative from the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Royce Buckingham, and Whatcom County Council member, Todd Donovan.
Even though many citizens emailed the Canvassing Board about how the vote curing process affects election integrity, Royce Buckingham announced on November 28, that citizen’s emails would not be reviewed or replied to until after the election certification on November 29.
How can we be confident that this flip in votes represents the actual will of the people? Many of Prop 5’s biggest contributors stand to benefit financially from it. A few thousand dollars contributed up-front would reap much larger financial benefits over the 10-years these additional tax dollars are collected and redistributed through grants and subsidized childcare for their services.
The ability of an invested party to ‘cure’ ballots appears to have determined the outcome of this property tax measure. With voter apathy on the rise, when local campaigns use questionably ethical workarounds, like vote curing, it fuels that apathy. We need to shore-up our election process, not tear it down.
How can we repair the faulty aspects of our voting system and restore voter confidence? One idea is to make the status of each ballot confidential for all but the voter; this would eliminate the ability to ‘cure’ ballots. Another is to restore single day elections, rather than a five-week, prolonged process, with rejected signatures and questionable late ballots.
Voting is a hard-won constitutional right. We must not take it lightly.