Bellingham Herald print edition

Have you ever experienced déjà vu?

It was February 2, 2005, when Secretary of State Sam Reed was touting his new election reform package, claiming, “The lessons learned from [the Governor’s race] will make our state's election system even stronger.”

Flash-forward to today: Reed is promising again to solve Washington’s election woes—this time with the release of his new statewide voter database.

Many election reformers were initially optimistic that this new database would clarify some of the confusion surrounding registered voters in the state. After all, Reed has been billing it as such for years now. Sadly, this is not the case.

A database can only be as good as the data it contains. The new voter database grandfathers in scores of deceased, duplicate and non-citizen voters. A quick query revealed that many birthdates are over a century old, many voters have two genders, and many more have multiple active registrations.

Reed acknowledged that the new voter database found at least 12,000 deceased persons registered to vote and as many as 36,000 voters registered twice—this is before any check for felons. The database does not even attempt to check for citizenship.

Separate checks by various watchdog groups showed that there are scores of registrations with obvious errors. Stefan Sharkansky of found 1,353 pairs of duplicate registrations where both entries match on first name, last name, birth date and exact address. Eighty-two percent of these names are in King County alone!

Reed maintains that these duplicate registered voters “are not casting two ballots.” Yet he admits that the vast majority of these cases have yet to be fully investigated. Worst of all, county auditors are already relying on the new voter database for their elections.

As bad as the situation seems, there is a solution. To restore credibility in our state elections system, all Washington voters must re-register, thus allowing the database to work off a clean voter roll. Voters should be required to provide proof of citizenship and show a photo ID in order to activate their registration.

Reed must also be transparent about the problems with the database and act quickly to identify illegal voters. As Washington’s chief elections officer, he is obliged to assist the counties in combating elections crime. Additionally, we should strengthen a county auditors’ duty to verify information on registration forms.

As it stands, the current statewide voter database provides no refuge to those seeking better election practices in Washington. In fact, the problem is made worse by creating a false impression that our elections system is fixed.

With the 2006 midterm elections looming, voter data must be correct. This can only be accomplished through re-registering all voters. Enacting this vital reform is a necessary step toward restoring integrity to Washington’s elections and preventing another Gregoire-Rossi déjà vu.