King County Elections officials have called for the removal of unauthorized ballot drop box signs that warn voters the drop box is “under surveillance.”
Elections staff began receiving reports of the suspicious and intimidating signs after voters began to receive their Aug. 2 primary ballots that were mailed July 13, according to a July 19 King County Elections news release.
The signs feature a QR code for placing “election incident” reports. Located around King County, these signs appear to be a targeted effort undertaken by party-affiliated activists to intimidate and dissuade voters from using secure ballot drop boxes, according to the news release.
“King County Elections will not stand for intimidation or scare tactics,” King County Elections Director Julie Wise said. “I believe this is a targeted, intentional strategy to intimidate and dissuade voters from using secure ballot drop boxes.
“My team is not going to stand by and allow any group to seed fear and doubt amongst our residents and voters, especially when they are simply trying to make their voices heard. My team is documenting and removing these signs and referring any information about who placed them to the King County Sheriff’s Office for further investigation.”
Voter intimidation is outlawed at both the state and federal level. No voter should be discouraged from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Under state law, it is a crime to intimidate voters in an effort to discourage them from depositing their ballots in a drop box, according to the news release.
Under federal law, it is a crime whenever two or more people conspire to prevent or discourage people from exercising their constitutional right to vote.
Wise said these are serious offenses that impact the heart of our democracy. Elections will work with appropriate state and federal authorities to ensure that the surveillance signs are fully investigated and that persons posting them are held accountable under the law.
Observers play a key role in maintaining secure and transparent elections. In King County and across Washington state, observers are welcome at drop boxes and are typically coordinated through the major political parties, according to the news release. Observers are given information about the ballot collection process, so they can know what to look for as the boxes are emptied and closed. However, observers are not allowed to interfere with voters or elections staff, nor can they intimidate or discourage others from exercising their right to vote.
“There are many ways curious or concerned voters can observe and engage in our electoral process,” King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said. “However, voter intimidation is not one of them. Washington law permits voters to drop off ballots for others. Signs intended to make voters feel like they are being watched and monitored and violating the law by depositing ballots is voter intimidation, period.”
Mathew Patrick Thomas, chair of the King County Republican Party, has requested that his party’s members remove and discontinue placement of the signs, according to the news release.
Both major political parties are key partners in transparency and observation of elections, Wise said. King County Elections is deeply grateful for that partnership.
“King County Elections conducts some of the safest and most secure elections anywhere in our nation, and these intimidation tactics are a direct extension of the anti-democratic rhetoric behind The Big Lie,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Voter intimidation is a state and federal crime, and I’ve directed Sheriff Cole-Tindall to investigate. There is no duty more sacred than protecting the right to vote and our democratic institutions, but today our democracy is under threat from those for whom their own extreme ideology is more important than the nation itself.”
This type of voter intimidation does not increase security nor provide greater integrity to elections, according to the news release. Drop boxes are constructed of half-inch thick steel, with multiple locking mechanisms, no pry points, fire stops, and are equipped with tamper-evident seals. Bolted into concrete, drop boxes are nearly indestructible and are a safe, convenient, and secure way for voters to return their ballot. All ballots – whether returned by drop box or mail – are verified at Elections headquarters in Renton.
“We thank our voters and observers for bringing this issue to our attention,” Wise said. “We truly appreciate the quick action of the King County GOP Chair, Mathew Patrick Thomas. We will continue to work together with voters, party leaders and others to ensure our elections are accessible, transparent, and secure.”
According to a July 18 story in The Seattle Times, Republican activists organized the sign posting in several Seattle-area locations.