Over the next two days, the Secretary of State's Office in Olympia will complete a random check of Referendum 74 signatures to determine whether the measure qualifies for the November ballot.
OLYMPIA — In a cramped room of the Secretary of State’s Elections Division offices, more than a dozen seasonal workers are punching the names of thousands of signers of Referendum 74 petitions into computer terminals, checking them against the state’s massive voter database.
They are expected to spend the next two days checking the validity of nearly 7,500 names — roughly 3 percent of the total number of signatures opponents of gay marriage submitted to the state last week in the hopes of qualifying the referendum for the November ballot.
Preserve Marriage Washington, backers of the referendum, turned in 247,331 names to the state last Wednesday — the most signatures ever gathered for a referendum and twice the number needed.
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Preserve Marriage wants voters to reject the state’s same-sex-marriage law, which the Legislature passed this year. A no vote would repeal the law. Their opponents, Washington United for Marriage, will ask for a yes vote to approve same-sex marriage.
On Sunday, the only sound that could be heard was the rustling of petition sheets and hushed conversations between workers and supervisors consulting over a host of routine inconsistencies — a signature that doesn’t look quite like the one on record or two signatures appearing in the voting record for the same person.
If there was ever a circumstance where an uncommon, unusual name was desirable, this is it.
Checkers, for example, must isolate the one John Smith who signed the referendum petition from among what could be hundreds in the voting records.
And then there’s the way people sometimes scribble when they write: Is that Matty or Willy?
The Ref. 74 campaign is a highly contentious one that is being closely watched from across the country by those on both sides.
Both campaigns have volunteer observers — each side is allowed four. The men and women move easily through the cramped room, looking over the shoulders of checkers, who appear almost oblivious to their presence. Some of the younger workers listen to iPods as they work.
Katie Blinn, co-director of elections for the state, said the ballot measures involving same-sex unions are the only ones for which the campaigns have requested observers. Three years ago, the full count on Ref. 71 petition signatures — the domestic-partnership measure — also drew observers from both sides.
Observers may not interact directly with checkers and, while they can take notes, are not allowed to write down the names of petition signers.
Failing the current random check would not disqualify the referendum from appearing on the November ballot. Rather, the state would conduct a complete hand count of all the signatures, though that’s unlikely since the referendum sponsors turned in so many signatures. Blinn said she expects the process to be complete by Tuesday.
On Friday, division staff isolated about 48 petition sheets with nearly 1,000 signatures that they suspect were fraudulently signed. All appear to have been signed by a single paid canvasser, according to the elections office.
Once the office decides whether there are enough valid signatures to put Ref. 74 on the ballot, officials plan to review all 996 signatures in dispute and turn those findings over to the State Patrol for investigation.
Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or email@example.com. On Twitter @turnbullL.