Editorial: Illegal vote cost plenty

  • Wednesday, January 24, 2007 11:00am
  • Opinion

An Oak Harbor woman paid a high price for what she must have considered a simple act of kindness for her daughter.

Her daughter was living in Bellingham last spring but her mail ballot was sent to her mother’s home in Oak Harbor, so she asked her mom to fill it out for her and send it in. Mom obliged, even signing the ballot with her daughter’s name.

The Island County Auditor’s Office found the signature suspicious and an investigation ensued. Ultimately, the mother was charged with a felony for voting illegally. Last week, she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, thereby avoiding having a felony on her record.

Still, the ill-advised vote was a costly one. The judge ordered the woman to pay $2,217 in fines and fees and suspended a jail sentence of 365 days. She’s also on probation for a year, and she has her own attorney fees to deal with.

By all accounts the woman, who now has a criminal record, is a good mother and has been gainfully employed in the community for many years. It’s too bad she had to go through all this just for trying to help her daughter vote.

Whether Prosecutor Greg Banks did the right thing in charging this person with a felony is debatable, but he did have the support of the staff at the Secretary of State’s Office in Olympia. Mail ballots are easy to tamper with and they wanted to send a message that doing so can land you in big trouble. By prosecuting the woman, Banks sent that message loud and clear.

No doubt others whose family members vote by mail will take note. Just because the ballot of a spouse or child is lying around the house doesn’t mean you can fill it in and sign it, even if that’s what they ask you to do. The ballot isn’t as secret as it once was, but it’s still sacred: It belongs solely to the person to whom it is addressed, and only that person can fill out, sign it and send it back.

It was an unfortunate lesson that proved costly for one woman, but if it helps restore public confidence in our electoral system then something good came out of the process.

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