King County elections officials allowed James C. Garrett to file as a candidate for Seattle mayor last week despite court records indicating...
King County elections officials allowed James C. Garrett to file as a candidate for Seattle mayor last week despite court records indicating he never had his voting rights restored after a felony conviction for assaulting then-Mayor Paul Schell in 2001.
King County prosecutors said yesterday they will work to correct the error by filing a challenge to Garrett’s voter registration, an action that likely will lead to his removal from the Sept. 20 primary ballot.
The move came after inquiries from The Seattle Times about Garrett’s voter status. Under state law, candidates for public office must be legally registered voters.
Garrett, 59, also known as Omari Tahir-Garrett, was convicted in 2002 of second-degree assault for striking Schell in the face with a bullhorn during a community festival. Schell suffered broken bones and vision problems.
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Garrett was sentenced to 21 months in prison, a felony conviction that automatically terminated his voting rights. County elections officials said their office properly canceled Garrett’s voter registration when notified of the conviction in 2002.
After the conviction, the elections department also sought and received a judge’s order to have him removed from the ballot. Garrett had filed that year, prior to his conviction, to run for the Legislature in the 37th District.
But county records show Garrett registered to vote again in August 2004. When he filed to run for mayor last week, elections officials, following their normal procedure, checked and saw he was registered to vote and accepted his candidacy. They did not check to see whether Schell’s high-profile assailant had ever petitioned a judge to restore his right to vote.
If felons serve their sentences and pay all outstanding court fees, they can petition to have their rights restored.
Dean Logan, director of the elections office, said his department normally keeps a record for two years of people whose registrations are canceled due to felonies. The office then mails letters to people on that list if they again register to vote, warning that their registration may be invalid.
In Garrett’s case, Logan said, “it doesn’t appear that letter was sent.”
It will be up to Logan to rule on the challenge to Garrett’s registration, and the elections director said he would do so as early as next week. Ballots and other election materials need to be printed and distributed soon, he said.
The lack of a coherent system for tracking felons was spotlighted in last year’s contested gubernatorial race. The razor-thin margin and court battle over the election of Gov. Christine Gregoire led Republicans and Democrats to come up with lists of hundreds of felons who had been allowed to cast ballots. The state is now creating a voter database to better track voter registrations.
Garrett’s registration could bring him new legal trouble. When he filled out a voter-registration document, Garrett signed a statement declaring he was not “presently denied any civil rights as the result of being convicted of a felony,” records show. Knowingly signing a false statement on that document is a felony.
Janine Joly, senior King County deputy prosecutor, said she will file a challenge to Garrett’s voter registration today. She did not know whether the prosecutor’s office would pursue criminal charges.
A county elections department clerk said it did not appear Garrett had voted in last year’s election.
Asked whether his voting rights had been restored, Garrett responded in an e-mail that his “rights are not defined or proscribed by EUROPEAN SETTLER COLONIAL TERRORIST ESTABLISHED INSTITUTIONS HERE IN THE ‘INDIANS’ HOMELAND!”
Garrett was one of seven mostly unknown challengers who filed last week to run against Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who is seeking a second term.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org