Auditor addresses observer concerns

Volunteers watching voters at drop boxes

PORT ANGELES — Numerous concerns raised by a pair of election activists are the result of a large number of election observers who are new to the process and are being educated on the rules and procedures, said Clallam County Auditor Shoona Riggs.

“It’s been a great experience for the majority of them,” she said. “It’s going well for the most part.”

Riggs sent a two-page, seven-point email on Friday to Sue Forde, Keith Larkin and Donnie Hall addressing issues that had arisen during the previous two weeks.

Forde is the Clallam County Republican chair and is running for the District 24 legislative seat now held by Democrat Mike Chapman of Port Angeles. Larkin is a former Sequim City Council member. Hall is an organizer of the Sequim-based Independent Advisory Association.

Concerns addressed in Riggs’ email ranged from potential illegal activity around drop boxes or polling places, the use of binoculars or “opera glasses” by election observers, a sign next to a ballot drop box stating it was under 24-hour video surveillance and election observers not following established rules and procedures.

A representative from the Jefferson County Auditor’s office said Monday they haven’t had anyone raise similar issues.

Riggs said late Monday morning she hadn’t heard back from either Forde or Larkin regarding her email.

Larkin said Monday afternoon he has been traveling and wanted to discuss with Forde how they wanted to respond to the email because they do want to respond.

The effort will continue through the general election since the primary election is today.

“We did have a brief exchange with Shoona a few days before the ballots were mailed out or close to it,” Larkin said. “We had a very large group of election observers who wanted to learn. So we worked with Shoona to get them through training.”

“They had one class for 12 people and we had 50. So they added two more classes, so we had 40-some volunteers,” he said.

Riggs said she told Forde and Larkin that if they or anyone else witnesses illegal activity to report it immediately to law enforcement instead of compiling a report and sending it to her because there is nothing she can do about it.

“I have no authority to investigate illegal activities and would have to forward your concerns at a delayed response since I would be second party to the information,” Riggs wrote. “Law enforcement has that ability and contacting them immediately will get a quicker response to the immediate issue.”

Larkin said they had a lot of new people they couldn’t put on the schedule so they gave those people an opportunity to observe the two Sequim-area ballot drop boxes.

One is located at 261461 U.S. Highway 101 adjacent to Mill Road near Sunny Farms Country Store. The other is located at 651 W. Washington St. in the parking lot near the former JCPenney building.

A “Under Video Surveillance” sign was posted at the Carlsborg ballot drop box on July 21 or July 22, Riggs said. It was only a day to a day and a half before it was taken down, she said.

“There was no authorization given for anyone to place a sign on the County’s property,” Riggs stated in her email.

She gave the information to the Clallam County Republican Party because she knows they have been watching the drop boxes.

Larkin said they immediately addressed a question about people being approached at the drop boxes.

“One person put up a sign and we had it taken down immediately,” he said. “It was up less than 24 hours. We didn’t want anyone to engage with people.”

“As far as the behavior, this email is the first we heard of it,” Larkin said. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of it ourselves. We are looking into this. Had we known earlier, we would have addressed it and replaced that person. We will not allow them to do that.”

Riggs also said she had conversations with observers regarding the use of binoculars.

“It’s a learning process. This has to do with voter privacy,” she said, noting that binoculars could be used during the signature verification process to view sensitive voter information.

The county has ordered lights to be installed next to the drop boxes for the general election in November, but it’s too late to do anything for the primary election, she said in response to another concern raised.

Riggs said educating all the new courthouse observers about identification and observer tags and staying in designated areas and not having phones or laptops out takes time.

People can bring their phones but should step outside to answer them because they potentially could be used to photograph sensitive information, Riggs said.

“It’s a learning process for them,” she said, adding they have had to work through some confrontations with the estimated 30 to 40 new election observers.

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Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached by email at [email protected]

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