As midterm voting kicks into high gear, Republican activists in Washington are organizing surveillance of ballot drop boxes, generating complaints and concern from some elections officials.
Over the weekend, signs were posted near ballot boxes in several Seattle-area locations, with red letters warning the boxes are “Under Surveillance” and stating that accepting money “for harvesting or depositing ballots” may violate federal law.
A scannable code on the signs pointed to a section of the King County Republican Party website with a form encouraging people to submit “election incident” reports, including photos and video.
Meanwhile, a group calling itself “WA Citizens United to Secure Ballot Boxes” is promoting drop-box surveillance statewide, encouraging people to sign up to watch ballot boxes and record video of people “dumping an in ordinate [sic] amount of ballots” and “taking pictures of themselves doing it,” according to the organization’s “Drop Box Watch” website.
The signs in King County were spotted near at least two ballot boxes in Seattle on Sunday, at the Lake City and Broadview branches of the Seattle Public Library.
King County Elections spokesperson Halei Watkins said the office received several reports about the signs popping up over the weekend near Eastside ballot boxes, including in Issaquah and Redmond.
While it is legal for people to observe the county’s 76 ballot boxes, which are located on public property, the message on the signs has raised concerns about possible intimidation. Watkins said King County Elections has notified the County Prosecutor’s Office “to check on the legality” of the effort.
“Certainly the signs out at the drop boxes are a little bit worrying,” Watkins said.
Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall, a Democrat, said she’d been alerted to the statewide surveillance effort and doesn’t understand what the people running it expect to prove. “I’d characterize it as voter intimidation,” she said.
Unlike some other states that limit the practice, Washington law allows people to drop off legal mail-in ballots for other voters with no restrictions.
Family members often drop off ballots for one another, Hall said, but it’s also legal for groups to hold “ballot parties” and collect a bunch of votes to turn in together. The ballot signatures are all checked before being counted to ensure the votes are legal, she noted.
Mathew Patrick Thomas, chair of the King County Republican Party, said in an interview Monday morning he had not been aware local GOP volunteers were placing the signs near ballot boxes until he got a call over the weekend from King County Elections Director Julie Wise.