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Some sign spouse's ballot

No voter fraud has been charged, but some spouses did sign mail-in ballots for their wives or husbands, an investigation has revealed.

Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said the investigation showed “less than a dozen” erroneous ballot signatures from some 120 investigated, but it doesn’t appear any harm was intended.

“We haven’t discovered ‘fraud’,” Hawley said. “But a lot were unaware of voting procedures -- that you can’t sign for a spouse. Now they are aware.”

Following state law, Island County Auditor Suzanne Sinclair sent a list of suspicious voter signatures to the Prosecutor’s Office in March. After last November’s election, there were some 400 questionable signatures, but Sinclair’s office resolved all but 120 of those by calling people and asking them to come in and verify their signatures.

Sinclair said “in the vast majority signatures had changed,” explaining that over time, people’s signatures often change. Those people who responded now have a new signature on file.

The names of those who did not respond were sent to the affected police jurisdictions of Island County, Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley. These votes were not counted because the signatures were not verified.

Once votes are cast, Auditor’s Office workers check the signature of each mail-in ballot against a signature on file. Workers receive several hours of training from a State Patrol handwriting expert. If signatures don’t match, the voter is investigated. If the Auditor’s Office can’t verify the signature, then the matter has to be turned over to the prosecutor.

Sinclair said one Oak Harbor voter signed for a spouse, citing a power of attorney document as the reason. But she said that’s not allowed. “You can’t do that, it’s not possible,” she said.

One voter in Coupeville also appears to have voted in King County. Sinclair said that case of double-voting is still being investigated.

There’s one other case of possible double-voting, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

Hawley said detectives conducted most of the investigative effort by telephone, but they also “knocked on a few doors.” He estimated it’s taken 80 hours of work. “Another unfunded mandate,” he said of the state law that requires local police to investigate voter fraud.

Prosecutor Greg Banks is waiting for the police investigations to wrap up before making any charging decisions.

Banks said 95 of the 120 questionable signatures from the November 2006 and February 2006 elections have been resolved as not involving voter fraud.

“That leaves 25 that we are still awaiting the investigation results from police,” he said. Three of those are from Langley, 2 from Coupeville and 20 from the Sheriff’s Office.

There were an additional 23 suspicious signatures submitted after the May 2006 elections in Oak Harbor and Stanwood school districts. Letters had been sent out to the voters but the deadline to reply had not arrived as of last week.

Banks said one of those 23 ballots “appeared to warrant immediate police investigation,” and was sent to the Sheriff’s Office.

To date, Banks said, no referrals from the police have been made for criminal prosecution, but there are still ballots being investigated. He said if a person fraudulently votes another person’s absentee ballot it is a Class C felony. The punishment ranges up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Hawley doubts his department’s investigation will lead to charges. “There hasn’t been intent to commit voter fraud,” he said.

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