Washam recall backers deliver last signatures

Petitions: Auditor expects to finish checks of 84,503 signatures by Sept. 8

August 31, 2011 

Backers of a campaign to recall Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam shot their final bolt Tuesday. Now it’s all about the math.

Puyallup resident Robin Farris and her supporters turned in a final batch of recall petition signatures to the Pierce County Elections Center, just as the clock ticked down on an Aug. 30 submission deadline.

“I’m relieved,” Farris said. “I’m really almost kind of sad that it’s over, because we’ve met so many cool people. But I’m really more than anything just relieved, and I’m feeling confident, too.”

Washam did not respond to a voice mail message left Tuesday with his assistant. He has faced the active recall effort since March 4, when the state Supreme Court ruled that the recall charges against him, if true, met standards of legal and factual sufficiency.

To qualify for the Nov. 8 general election ballot, recall backers must deliver at least 65,495 valid signatures, representing 25 percent of voters in the 2008 election that brought Washam to office.

Tuesday, Farris and her mother, Leanna Schletzbaum, estimated that the campaign had gathered 84,503 signatures – about 19,000 more than the threshold for certification.

If correct, the tally would allow a maximum error rate of 22.5 percent.

The final number of signatures could be higher. Farris has tried to keep an exact count, but last-minute signatures were still arriving Tuesday afternoon. Recall backers and citizens showed up at the Pierce County elections center waving petition sheets and handing them in, amid cries of “just one more.”

Bigger numbers would fatten Farris’ error cushion.

By her own count, she has submitted roughly 7,000 petition pages to the elections center. Each petition has spaces for 20 signatures. Not all of the spaces were filled – the petition pages include some “onesies and twosies,” Farris said.

Tuesday morning, elections manager Mike Rooney said workers had just passed petition page 3,570, having checked (at that point) a total of more than 48,000 signatures.

Daily counts of signature checks posted by the county auditor’s office suggest that certification could be a close call.

By the end of the day Tuesday, elections workers had checked 53,640 signatures. Of that number, 40,789 were judged valid, while 12,851 had been challenged.

That pencils out to a challenge rate of roughly 24 percent, but there is a wrinkle: A challenged signature is not a rejected signature.

Challenges fall into several categories. Unregistered voters, nonresidents and duplicates are the most obvious. Others are fuzzier, such as illegibility, or a signature that doesn’t match the signature on file in the voter-registration database.

Front-line elections workers place challenged signatures into a separate category, to be double-checked later. Challenged signatures can still pass the validity test on further review.

“Many pages are currently in the process of a second review by our more experienced staff,” Rooney said in an email Tuesday. “During this review, signatures are double checked and if warranted, challenge codes are removed. Some voters who were listed as ‘not registered’ are found by our more experienced staff and can then be counted as a valid petition signer.”

Elections officials expect to finish the process and certify the signature totals no earlier than Sept. 9.

The recall charges accuse Washam of retaliating against his employees, wasting government resources, defying legal requirements to cooperate with internal investigations and violating his oath of office.

The charges cite three independent investigations of Washam’s conduct, which found he had committed the violations. A more recent federal investigation, finished after the recall petition was filed, reached similar conclusions regarding Washam’s conduct in office.

Washam has denied any wrongdoing.

As the final wave of signatures poured into the elections center, Farris saved one particular page, waiting for the final moment.

“No, this is the last one,” she told elections workers.

It was the last petition, and the first one – the one she’d been saving since March, when the signature drive began.

On the first signature space, she’d signed her own name.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 sean.robinson@thenewstribune.com

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