Calling it an attempt at voter intimidation, King County Elections Director Julie Wise requested the sheriff’s office investigate people who planted signs near ballot boxes warning voters they were “under surveillance.”
In a statement Tuesday evening, Wise blasted what she called an effort to scare voters.
“I believe this is a targeted, intentional strategy to intimidate and dissuade voters from using secure ballot drop boxes. My team is not going to stand by and allow any group to seed fear and doubt amongst our residents and voters, especially not when they are simply trying to make their voices heard,” Wise said.
The signs in question were posted near ballot boxes in several Seattle and Eastside locations, with red letters warning the boxes were “under surveillance” and implying criminal consequences “for harvesting or depositing ballots” for pay.
The signs included a scannable QR code that linked to a King County Republican Party website and form encouraging people to submit “incident reports” documenting allegedly suspicious activity.
Wise noted voter intimidation is outlawed by both state and federal law.
“These are serious offenses that impact the heart of our democracy,” Wise said, adding elections officials would “work with appropriate state and federal authorities to ensure that the surveillance signs are fully investigated and that the persons posting them are held accountable under the law.”
Wise said her team is “documenting and removing” the signs and would refer “any information about who planted them to the King County Sheriff’s Office for further investigation.”
Halei Watkins, a spokesperson for King County Elections, said in an email that King County Executive Dow Constantine directed newly appointed Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall to investigate. The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
People are allowed to legally observe the voting process, including drop boxes, Wise’s office said in a news release noting partisan election observers are typically coordinated with the major political parties and receive training. Observers are not allowed to interfere with voters or intimidate them.
“There are many ways curious or concerned voters can observe and engage in our electoral process. However, voter intimidation is not one of them,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said in a statement issued by King County Elections.
Satterberg noted Washington, unlike some other states that restrict such deliveries to family members or other designated persons, allows voters to drop off ballots for others.
“Signs intended to make voters feel like they are being watched and monitored and violating the law by depositing ballots is voter intimidation, period,” Satterberg said.
Mathew Patrick Thomas, chair of the King County Republicans, repudiated the surveillance effort after it was reported by The Seattle Times Monday, disbanding the county party’s “election integrity” committee and saying its members were involved in printing and planting the signs without his knowledge.
Thomas said the party would fully cooperate with King County Elections and would take legal action if any groups or individuals “misappropriate” the party’s name for “any unsanctioned or ill-intentioned use.”
Amber Krabach, a legislative candidate and one of the leaders of that committee, said Monday the signs shouldn’t have bothered anyone not attempting illegal activity. She did not immediately respond to an email Tuesday evening.
The controversial surveillance effort in King County appears linked to a broader statewide campaign by activists who claim to be surveilling all ballot boxes in the state.
Their effort is motivated by “2000 Mules,” a film that asserts the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump by ballot traffickers in swing states.
The film’s conclusions have been rebutted as false or unsupported by fact-checking groups and elections experts. Trump’s former Attorney General, William Barr, mocked the film’s allegations during testimony to the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, attack on the Capitol.