ACLU of Washington Files Lawsuit Seeking Revised Vote Count in Medina Election

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
December 1, 2003 12:00 am

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MEDINA, WA– The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington today filed a lawsuit seeking to reinstate write-in ballots for a Medina City Council seat declared invalid by King County election officials.

“The right to vote for the candidate of your choice is a fundamental part of our democracy,” said ACLU of Washington attorney Doug Klunder, who is handling the case. “When a citizen’s intention to vote for a candidate is clear, the vote should be counted.”

The lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court on behalf of Katie Phelps, a write-in candidate in the November 2003 election for Medina City Council, who lost the election by three votes. Election officials said another 29 ballots had Phelps’s name clearly marked as a write-in but were declared invalid because voters failed to also darken the adjacent oval on the ballot.

Officials based their decision not to count the 29 write-in ballots on a provision of the state’s election law requiring voters using “optical-scan mark sense ballot systems” to fill in the oval for a write-in vote. Despite this law, constitutional principles and the preponderance of other state statutes governing the processing of write-in votes require the counting of all ballots on which the voter’s intention is clear, the ACLU said in legal papers.

A longstanding principle of Washington case law (first articulated in State v. Fawcett, 1897) holds that, “All statutes tending to limit the citizen in the exercise of the right of suffrage should be liberally construed in his favor. ? The important thing is to determine the intention of the voter, and to give it effect.” State law provides that “voters may write in on the ballot the name of any person for an office ? and such vote shall be counted the same as if the name had been printed on the ballot and marked by the voter.”

Invalidation of ballots without a filled-in oval violates constitutional principles upholding the fundamental right to vote, the ACLU said. In this case, no purpose – not even administrative efficiency – is served by forcing election officials to deliberately disregard ballots after they have determined the intent of the voters.

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