Every ballot must be assigned to a registered voter. Because Washington is an all-mail-in state, each registered voter is issued a ballot as long as their status is on record as “active.” If there are extra people on the list of registered voters whose status for various reasons should be inactive but are still on record as active, there will be extra ballots in circulation that shouldn’t be and can potentially be used nefariously.
What can be done about this?
There is a process available to remove people from the list who are not eligible to vote. For years, the public has assumed that the list is being properly maintained. After taking a closer look, however, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
If such is the reality, can this problem be remedied? One solution is a legal pathway available to remove the extra voters from the list and reduce the number of excess ballots floating around.
Legal Path Forward
RCW 29A.08.810 lays out the basis for challenging a voter’s registration. Any registered voter may bring challenges to another voter’s registration. The state law also requires challengers to have personal knowledge and belief of a voter’s ineligibility to vote.
If the goal is the remove the voter before ballots are issued, or before the voter’s ballot is counted, challenges must be filed at least 45 days before an election. If the voter becomes registered at an address within 60 days of an election, then the challenge must be filed 10 days before the election or 10 days after the voter is registered, whichever is later, according to RCW 29A.08.820.
Here to Help
On this page you can find tools to help you challenge voter’s registrations for people who are not eligible or who are nowhere to be found. Take responsibility by checking on your own precinct!
Steps to Challenge a Voter’s Registration
1. Use the search tool to get a list of voters in your precinct. For a walk list ordered by house number, go to the “Search By Address” section and in the “Street” box enter only the street name without entering the house number. Make sure to fill in the “City” box below and below that hit the “find” button.
Right click on the generated list and print it out using the print options to fit all the columns you want on one page. Check the precinct column being mindful that some streets may include bordering precincts. There’s also a link at the bottom to export the list to an Excel CSV file. If you know how to use Excel you can used the filter feature to get the precinct you want.
Make a friendly visit and speak to the people at the addresses in question to verify the voters on the list. If there are people registered there that the current residents don’t recognize, make a note of it.
2. Send a letter to the voter’s registered address. On the envelope you should write, “Return Service Requested” underneath the return address. This step can be performed after steps 2 and/or 3 if you want to be more confident that the registration record isn’t accurate before sending the letter. Be mindful, though, that the sooner this letter gets sent the sooner the challenge can be submitted.
Give the voter some time to respond to your letter. We suggest a 14 day grace period to allow voters sufficient time to update their registration information is fair. In the meantime, you can work on the rest of the documents needed for the challenge.
4. Go online to the county property records and search by name and/or address to determine if the voter owns property in the county. When searching by address, if available and necessary, check sales history to see if the voter was the previous owner of the property. Print out the results, or save as PDF.
5. Search the statewide voter registration database (you can use the voter search tool for this) to determine if the voter is registered at any other address in the state. Print out the results, or save as PDF.
6. Search the voter registration database of another state to determine if the voter is registered to vote in any other state. Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Utah are the closest states that have voter portals for searching registration information by name and birth date. (Utah also requires an address.)
Here’s more states to the mid US, and a few more beyond, with voter portals with just name and dob, or some additionally with county and/or zip code:
Ohio and Nebraska (only county, no bd required), Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, N Carolina, Colorado plus zip, New Mexico plus county, S Dakota plus zip, Texas plus county-zip code; and
7. Submit all documents to your county auditor, along with this challenge form. This can be done in person, by mail, or by email using PDFs if allowed by your auditor.
One caveat: If you happen to come across a voter’s new/current address who isn’t registered at that address and you don’t think they will bother to update their info and you want to submit a registration challenge, you can simply fill in the new address of the voter on the challenge form and skip the “address based challenges” section of the instructions which are listed above. If you need help contact us and we’ll be happy to explain how it works.
What to Expect
After submitting a challenge, the auditor will review all the documents submitted, and decide whether or not all requirements are met to proceed with the challenge. If not, you will need to submit whatever is missing. If the documents you submit are sufficient, the challenge will move forward.
The voter will be sent a certified letter with “return service requested” on the outside of the envelope. It will contain notification from the county, notifying them of the challenge. Make sure the auditor understands that “return service requested” needs to be on the outer envelope. This is to ensure that if a forward exists on the address the letter doesn’t get forwarded as this would defeat the purpose of why the letter is being sent, to confirm the voter no longer resides at the address.
A hearing date will be set. You may need to attend, but will need to wait for instructions from the county. Something to make a note of. If the auditor sends a letter to a voter at the address on the voter rolls and it gets returned, the auditor is required by law to move the voter to inactive status unless the voter contacts the auditor with the necessary information to remain active. RCW 29A.08.620 (4) (a).
Some hearings may be virtual or in person. If the challenged voter doesn’t reply or show up to the hearing, they will be marked inactive until they resolve any issues with their registration data. In the case of the challenge(s) being resolved before the hearing date, returned mail, voter contacting auditor, etc., a hearing is no longer necessary and you may be contacted by the auditor to request that the hearing be cancelled.
The county elections official or County Canvassing Board will preside over the hearing. Final determination of the challenge may be appealed in Superior Court. The challenged voter’s information will also be published on the county auditor’s website within 72 hours of the challenge being accepted by the auditor.
After 2 general election cycles are complete, and the voter has still not updated their information while inactive, they will be removed from the VRDB and put on the “cancelled” list.
Complete list of forms needed to prepare for a voter registration challenge. (Same files as above)