Monday, November 9, 2015

Port of Olympia Zita-Farmer Ballot Issues

Above: During a public hearing about the budget, Port of Olympia commissioner candidate E.J. Zita addresses the Port of Olympia on Monday night. She commented on her desire to see a clearer accounting of the cost of dredging. She said that it would add clarity if the costs could be separated. The cost of operational dredging is currently combined with other environmental clean-up costs. Galligan said that those numbers are available. “If there’s a clearer way to report on that, we’d be happy to do that,” said Galligan.

By Janine Gates

According to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office, the latest tally has E.J. Zita ahead of Jerry Farmer in their race for Port of Olympia Port Commissioner #3. 

Zita was slightly behind on election night, but subsequent tallies put her in the lead with 124 votes on Friday with an estimated 700 ballots left to count.

On Monday, the new tally kept Zita ahead: 26,294 (50.21%) to Farmer’s 26,079 (49.79%), for a difference of 215 votes.

There are still a few ballots to be counted that have discrepancies, such as missing signatures, or those that have questionable signatures.

Little Hollywood spoke late Monday afternoon with Tillie Naputi-Pullar, Thurston County elections manager at the Thurston County Auditor’s Office. She said that as of today, there are 116 ballots that do not have signatures, and 207 that have questionable signatures.

“Each day we generate a letter so voters are being notified on a daily basis if something is wrong with their ballot,” said Naputi-Pullar. She and her staff of three have a process in which they visually examine the signatures of all voters.

“If there is a problem, we send out a letter within 24 hours to the voter. We supply a pre-paid envelope with a signature verification form and the voter can mail it back, come in and drop it off, or email it by scanning it, or fax it back to us. We do our best to help the voter so it’s expedited so we can update their status,” she said.

Little Hollywood asked Naputi-Pullar about an Olympia woman who had an issue with her ballot and said she received a knock on her door on Sunday, November 8. The visitor appeared to be a supporter of candidate Jerry Farmer, as she was wearing a Farmer campaign button.

The westside resident, interviewed by Little Hollywood on Monday, did not want to be named, but shared her story:

“A woman wearing a Farmer campaign button and carrying a clipboard knocked on the door of my apartment. On her clipboard she carried many forms and a list of registered voters, I believe. She stated that she was a volunteer and was at my home because my ballot had an issue, and it was not currently valid as a countable ballot. 

The issue, she said, was that my ballot signature did not match the outside envelope signature. She asked me if I had received an official notice of this problem. I had not. She suggested that I had not received this letter because I had voted at the last minute.
She handed me a form from her clipboard and told me that I should fill it out in order to amend the discrepancy in my ballot signatures. She stated that she'd like me to fill it out on the spot and give it back to her.  

I told her I would rather fill it out later and/or wait for the official notice. She checked something off on her clipboard. She then asked me: “Did you even vote for the Port?”  I responded “Yes, I did.” She questioned me further, “Who did you vote for? Did you vote for Jerry Farmer?” I told her that I did not wish to answer her questions at this time.  She thanked me for my time and left. 

To follow up on this interaction, I checked the Thurston County Elections website to ascertain the status of my ballot.  There is indeed a problem with it, and I intend to call the number provided to resolve this issue so that my vote may be counted.”

Before she had a chance to call, she said she received her letter from the Thurston County elections office just this evening, informing her of the ballot signature discrepancy.

The woman says she doesn’t think anything suspicious was going on, but was unclear about the process.

“I didn’t know they gave out that kind of information to campaigns but I guess I’m not surprised now that I know the process,” she said.

It’s called “signature chasing,” and Naputi-Pullar said that the woman who came to the door was not with the Thurston County election office, however, that type of voter information is released to campaigns regarding voters whose ballots have not yet been counted. The form she was asked to fill out on the spot and return to the woman wearing the Farmer campaign button was most likely a signature verification form.

Jan Witt of Olympia is a friend of the woman who received the knock on her door and expressed concern about the incident.

I believe that Thurston County Elections should not accept any of the forms collected by campaign people. Given that a campaign is asking people who they voted for and requesting the signature verification forms, how do they know whether or not a campaign is turning in all of the forms they receive? Maybe they are turning in only the forms of those who say they voted for their candidate,” said Witt.

Asked how the Thurston County elections office knows that all signature verification forms are turned in by campaign volunteers, Naputi-Pullar expressed assurance in their process, which is set in statute: 

“Three days before the certification date, November 24, my staff sits down and calls those voters if we have not received a form back. If people are concerned, they can contact us.”

Contacted by Little Hollywood this evening, Farmer said that he thought Zita’s volunteers were also out signature chasing.

Asked tonight after a Port of Olympia business meeting if her campaign is signature chasing, Zita said she has several dozen volunteers signed up to do so, but the elections office has informed her that it doesn’t appear to be necessary. Zita said that although a recount will be necessary, it appears to be out of range for a hand recount, and will most likely be a machine recount.

According to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office, the following are the rules for recounts of local contests: 

A machine recount would require that the difference between two candidates be less than 2,000 votes and less than 1/2 of one percent of the total votes cast. A hand recount would require that the difference between two candidates is less than 150 votes and less than 1/4 of one percent of the total votes cast.

Although it may still be too soon to do so, port staff, audience members, and Joe Downing, Port of Olympia commissioner candidate for position #1 who won his seat against George Barner, and was also at tonight's meeting, congratulated Zita on her apparent win.

The election will be certified November 24.

For more information and number changes, go to the Thurston County Auditor’s Office at