Two San Juan County residents, local Green Party take ballot bar codes to state Supreme Court

Two San Juan County residents, two Grays Harbor County residents and the San Juan County Green Party have sued Secretary of State Sam Reed and County Auditor Milene Henley, seeking to prohibit placement of unique bar code identifiers on ballots.

The plaintiffs are Allan Rosato and Tim White of Orcas Island, Arthur Grunbaum and Linda Orgel of Grays Harbor County, and the San Juan County Green Party. They filed suit July 14.

The suit alleges that Reed required about one million voters to vote on ballots that contained unique bar code identifiers, which the plaintiffs say violates the state Constitution’s guarantee of “absolute secrecy” of the ballot and statutes requiring uniform ballots within a precinct.

The suit also claims Reed has encouraged and subsidized an uncertified ballot tracking “audit” system that links the ballot identifiers to voters’ identities, further undermining ballot secrecy by potentially permitting vendors and officials to inspect how a citizen voted.

The petitioners filed White v. Reed directly in the state Supreme Court using a judicial procedure for fast-track adjudication by the high court.

According to the petition, Reed’s actions have led to the introduction and proliferation of ballot IDs in most Washington counties by activating an option of the Hart Intercivic voting system. Reed also has encouraged and subsidized many counties to deploy the VoteHere ballot tracking system which links the unique ballot ID with the voter’s ID, the suit says.

Petitioners claim that these systems are not necessary for election auditing or security. Seattle’s King County prohibited ballot identifiers after finding that voters perceived the identifiers as compromising ballot secrecy.

Hart and the VoteHere vendor are marketing the systems across the country for both poll site voting and absentee mail voting. Washington state requires paper ballots, and votes almost entirely by mail.

Seattle public-interest attorney Knoll Lowney represents the four individuals and the Green Party of San Juan County, where the systems were first deployed. According to Lowney, “Reed’s actions have violated the constitutional rights of one million Washington voters just because of where they live. In King County, where I vote, there are no unique bar codes on my ballot and I am certain of the secrecy of my ballot. Every voter in our state deserves the same confidence.”

A statement supporting the case was released by the national public interest organization, Voter Action, which has participated in lawsuits throughout the country involving election integrity concerns.

Petitioner White said, “An absolutely secret ballot means your blank ballot is exactly like your neighbor’s. Nobody can reconnect it to your hand. Secretary Reed’s new system permits just that. He subsidized this system with a no-bid contract with VoteHere, a corporation led by Reed’s mentor Ralph Munro and past heads of the Pentagon and the CIA. Voters should not have to trust this or any private company to maintain ballot secrecy.”

Rosato added, “Few voters realize that the bar code they see is unique to their ballot, and in many cases linked with their voter ID. When they learn this, they are very concerned. Our Constitution and statutes do not allow this experiment with ballot secrecy. It certainly is not necessary since two-thirds of Washington voters are not subject to it.”

State Elections Director Nick Handy defended the system of bar-code identifiers on ballots, saying they don't compromise voter privacy. He issued the following statement about the lawsuit.

“Four voters and a local political party have sued the Secretary of State, asking our high court to prohibit use of bar-code identifiers on ballots in Washington. The lawsuit claims that markings on the ballots compromise the privacy of voters. That is simply not true. It is not possible in Washington to trace any ballot back to the individual voter.

“The state Constitution and the laws of Washington vigilantly protect the privacy of voters, and this office and our Legislature have made it very clear that no election official in the state may trace a ballot back to how an individual person voted. The basic underlying premise of the lawsuit is just wrong.

“Ballots do have various bar codes and other markings on them to allow the tabulation equipment to process the ballot properly and to guard against ballots being fed through more than once.

“For those counties using the Mail in Ballot Tracker system, this system has improved the efficiency and accuracy of election operations, while continuing to maintain a secret ballot.

“It’s understandable that some might be concerned when they see the markings, but, again, rest assured that those markings do not compromise the privacy of the ballot. These are an important and reliable tool for accountability and efficiency, and we support our County Auditors who choose this system.

“The litigation brought by four voters and the Green Party of San Juan County specifically talks about the counties that use Hart Intercivic optical scan voting systems. The Hart system has been approved by both state and federal regulators, and you can bet they would not permit any compromise of ballot secrecy.

“We expect to prevail if this matter is actually heard by the Supreme Court.”

The Secretary of State's office has resources available on its definition of ballot secrecy.


  • An interview with John Bonifaz, Legal Director of Voter Action of Cambridge, Mass., on Seattle's KUOW

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