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Republicans Chase Ballots With Minivans, Smart Phones

King County GOP Victory Van
Amy Radil

This year campaigns are able to make faster and more nimble use of ballot returns than ever before and target those voters who have yet to cast their ballots.

Republicans say Democrats had a stronger get-out-the-vote effort in Washington in 2010, but this year they’re determined to learn from that example. Some of those efforts haven’t been well-received by elections officials, though.

On a recent weekday afternoon in Bellevue, Stephen Barrett was picking up his latest voter list from the King County Republican Party headquarters. He’s headed to Issaquah.  “It’s the get-out-the-vote efforts, but we also call it ballot-chasing,” he said.

His list of likely Republican voters is freshly updated to reflect those people who haven’t yet sent in their ballots. Those are the doors he’ll be knocking on.

Barrett said the memory of Republican Dino Rossi’s narrow loss in the 2004 governor’s race is what still motivates him. “I still feel bad that Dino Rossi did not win by so few votes, if we just made a little extra effort. That will stick with me for the rest of my life,” said Barrett.

Republican strategists say they’re also taking a cue from Democrats’ tenacious get-out-the-vote efforts in Washington state in 2010. Alex Hays is the executive director of Mainstream Republicans. He said Washington state Democrats helped fend off the Republican wave that swept the rest of the country two years ago.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "I%20still%20feel%20bad%20that%20Dino%20Rossi%20did%20not%20win%20by%20so%20few%20votes%2C%20if%20we%20just%20made%20a%20little%20extra%20effort.%20That%20will%20stick%20with%20me%20for%20the%20rest%20of%20my%20life.", "style": "inset"}]]“Oftentimes it’s about the Democrats staying home and that’s what was happening in 2010 all across the country," said Hays. "Democrats noticed that here locally, solved it by putting people on the ground and kind of went door-to-door to actually remind people to vote. This year the Republicans are doing the exact same thing.”

Hays said the opportunity to elect Republicans to open seats is getting voters and volunteers motivated. For example, he’s running the phone bank for voters in the 6th Congressional District, where Republican Bill Driscoll is running against Democrat Derek Kilmer for Congressman Norm Dicks’ old seat. They just bought more phones. 

“We had to order more because we just had more volunteers than we could handle with the number of phones we had set up. That’s a lovely problem to have,” Hays said.

Every day, elections officials release the names of voters whose ballots they’ve received. That information has always been public, but now campaigns are able to refresh their list of targeted voters every 24 hours.

Paul Hess chairs the 46th Legislative District for the King County Republicans. “We get a download every day by precinct and we can tell who has not voted, and then we actually go and call that person or knock on their door and get them to send in their ballot,” Hess said. “That’s how we’re using technology. That has never been done before.”

Hess said having that human contact by phone or in person remains vital. And in Seattle, he’s not confining his door-belling just to likely Republican voters; those numbers would be too small. He’s approaching Democrats and trying to persuade them to split their ticket between Democrat Barack Obama for president, and Republican Rob McKenna for governor.  “The key to McKenna’s victory for the first Republican elected in 32 years is to get a higher percentage in Seattle,” Hess said. 

The King County Republicans are also offering to shuttle ballots by minivan, or what they call Victory Van. In the last few days, they’ve stationed 10 of the white vans mostly around the Eastside, with people in attendance to answer any last-minute questions.

Lisa Shin is the executive director of the King County Republican Party. She says the idea for the Victory Vans came from the three vans that King County is using to collect ballots in addition to its usual drop-boxes.  Shin said the Victory Vans will ferry ballots to official drop-boxes or elections headquarters.

She said, “Some people just don’t feel comfortable putting their ballot in their own mailbox, especially if it’s not a secure mailbox.”

But King County officials are not flattered by the Republicans’ efforts to imitate them. On Sunday, they held a press conference advising voters not to use the Victory Vans and to turn in their ballots only  at official drop-boxes or through the mail. 

King County Elections Director Sherril Huff said she contacted the King County GOP with her concerns.  “I just asked them if they would explain what their process was going to be," Huff said. "[I] told them that we would be advising against this and they were aware of that, and that there is a risk involved with this.”

Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed also weighed in on the issue in published reports Sunday. He said his office would discourage such activity, but it’s not illegal.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, a Democrat, agreed. He said if any ballots don’t show up it will be hard to know what happened to them. “So that ballot, which is the only one you’ll get, is now in a van, it could be unlocked, you don’t know where it’s sitting, you don’t know the person who’s supposed to deliver it. There’s a chain-of-custody problem now with your ballot,” said Constantine.

He noted that failing to deliver any ballots would be against the law.

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