Why is the King County Director of Elections Smearing Jason Osgood?

[Front paged: NM. Editorial comment: 1.) See Jason Osgood's 5/12/07 story specifically congratulating Councilmember Constantine for protecting our secret ballot: KING COUNTY PROTECTS OUR SECRET BALLOT. 2.) Councilmember Constantine knows that King County Elections has not used unique identifiers on ballots. Having been told, erroneously, by the King County Director of Elections that Jason Osgood was misinforming people that King County had used these unique identifiers, I understand why he recommended against contributing to Osgood's cammpaign. Therefore, I don't agree with the characterization of his comments that appears here as "trashing" the candidate. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that Sherril Huff appears to have not verified the information in her email before she sent it out and that, therefore, she spread misinformation that makes it more difficult for voters to make an informed choice in this election. I'm front-paging this story despite my disagreement with the author's characterization of Councilmember Constantine's comments, as it is reporting important information.]

Wednesday night I attended the regular membership meeting of the 34th District Democrats.  Part of the night's agenda included approval of proposals to donate money to Democratic candidates for statewide office.

Following decisions to make donations to Christine Gregoire, Jim McIntire, Peter Goldmark and John Ladenberg, I stood and introduced a motion to contribute to Democratic Secretary of State candidate Jason Osgood.  I expected little or no opposition, as Osgood enjoys the strong support of a large number of 34th LD activists. However, to my surprise, King County Council Member Dow Constantine stood to speak in opposition.  Constantine was clearly upset with Osgood, and proceeded to trash him before the group.  His anger was focused on public statements he claimed Osgood has recently been making to the effect that King County uses bar-codes on ballots which allow votes to be tracked back to voters.  King County uses no such system - and therefore Constantine was upset that County officials have allegedly been forced to deal with confused, angry and misinformed citizens. Following his talk the motion to contribute to Osgood (who was endorsed by the 34th last month) was easily defeated.

Many Democrats in the room were shocked that the Osgood campaign would spread such false information and agreed with Constantine's assertion that the group should postpone any contribution until the candidate "gets his act straight."

This would all be perfectly sensible, except for the fact that Constantine's accusations were entirely false and that Jason Osgood has never said any of the things about King County ballots that he was accused of saying.  In fact, Osgood has consistently and publicly said the exact opposite - that King County does not use bar-codes and that this is a good thing.

So where did Councilmember Constantine come by this false and defamatory information about a Democratic candidate for statewide office?  Well, that's where it gets interesting.

Following the meeting I approached Constantine to learn the details of his accusations.  I'm familiar with Osgood's positions and have seen several of his stump speeches.  I also know he's quite knowledgeable about ballot issues and was astonished that he would say anything as seriously wrong as Constantine had claimed.  It didn't sound right.

Constantine immediately produced an email he had received that same day from Sherril Huff, Director of Elections for King County. The email, addressed to the entire King County Council, was the source of his anger and of his accusations.

Here is the entire text (bolding mine):

From: Huff, Sherril
To: ZZGrp, Council Members
Cc: Alvine, Michael
Cc: Flynn, Tim
Sent: Aug 13, 2008 9:56 AM

TO: The Honorable Julia Patterson and Council members                        

FROM: Sherril Huff, director King County Elections

RE: Correction to misinformation regarding King County's ballots

DATE: August 13, 2008

It has was recently brought to my attention that misinformation has been shared at local public meetings as well as editorial boards regarding how timing marks on ballots are used in King County. Unfortunately, a candidate running for office publicly misstated that King County ballots can be traced back to the voter using a bar code on the ballot.

This accusation is false and has the potential for generating unwarranted concern for voters.  King County has never and does not currently place bar codes or any other identifying marks on ballots. In addition, King County has never endorsed any technology that can directly link a ballot back to the voter. Quite the opposite, the Elections Division, the County Executive and County Council collectively have publicly testified against using such technology.  Exhibit 4 in the division's ballot accountability business case specifically recommends against using such technology (see your.kingcounty.gov/...) and in July 2007 the Council passed an ordinance against using such technology (see www.metrokc.gov/council/news....)

What is placed on the edges of each ballot are timing marks associated to each race on the ballot. These linear marks indicate the placement and unique race on each ballot and are read by the tabulation equipment.  Simply put, the timing marks on the paper ballot tell the system where the voter can mark the ballot so tabulation of the voter's selections can occur.  For optical scan paper ballots timing marks are necessary for the system to work.

Sadly misinformation is sometimes promulgated by candidates as a political strategy. As people engaging with constituents and stakeholders daily, I wanted to provide you with timely and accurate information and assure you it continues to be King County's position and policy that we will never sacrifice the sanctity and secrecy of a voter's private ballot.

I believe we can continue to achieve ballot envelope tracking and accurate reconciliation using the Pitney Bowes mail sorting equipment coupled with our Six Sigma quality standards we've used successfully since 2005.

Please do not hesitate to contact me directly at 206-296-1540 if I can answer any questions about this topic or next week's primary.

So yesterday I called Jason Osgood.  As I suspected he would, Osgood emphatically denied having ever conflated timing marks on ballots with bar-codes.  He also made it very clear that he knows full well no bar-codes exist on King County ballots and that he would never say they did.  In fact, he pointed out that he was active in the campaign to pressure the King County Council to pass the legislation - referenced in Huff's email - banning such codes.  Furthermore, he pointed out that in his regular stump speech and in his usual talking points he mentions the fact that King County did not adopt voter-tracking bar-codes.

Here's an interview with Osgood on KEXP that supports exactly what he told me.

So... next I called Sherril Huff.  I was curious to know specifically at which "public meetings as well as editorial boards" Osgood had allegedly made these crazy statements that directly contradict what he usually says, and which were causing so much awful trouble for the poor folks at the County.

The first thing I asked Huff was to confirm that the "candidate for public office" she referenced in her email was indeed Jason Osgood.  She told me it was.  I then asked if she could refer me to the particular occasions at which Osgood had said the things she states in her email.  It turned out that she couldn't.  In fact, she wasn't personally familiar with his exact comments or where exactly he had made them.  However - to my astonishment - she assured me she had been told about Osgood's alleged crazy-talk by a very reliable source: Nick Handy, Director of Elections for the State of Washington and top deputy to incumbent Secretary of State Sam Reed.  Handy, she told me, was a very respected individual and was the sole source for the allegations in her email.  Maybe he would have the details?

So... I called Nick Handy.  To my continued disbelief, Handy confirmed that he had indeed told Sherril Huff about Jason Osgood's alleged statements regarding timing-marks on ballots and about Osgood's supposed contention that King County ballots included voter-tracking bar-codes.  Great, I thought, now I can get to the bottom of this.  But no.  Believe it or not, Handy wasn't exactly sure when or where Osgood had made these statements either.  He had simply been told about them, he said, by Attorney General Rob McKenna and by Eastside State Representative Fred Jarret. They had in turn been told about them by unnamed citizens.  Allegedly that is.

So the trail was dead.  There was and is no evidence whatsoever that Jason Osgood said any of the crazy things that Sherril Huff claimed emphatically in her email that he said.  In fact, they appear quite clearly to be the product of rumor-mongering by Republican officeholders opposed to Osgood.

So what the heck was Sherril Huff doing?  Well, let's review:  Huff receives uncorroborated, third-hand, defamatory information about the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State from a top official in the office of his opponent.  She then includes that information, presented as the gospel truth, in an email that she spams around to top officials in the County under the color of her official role as King County Director of Elections.

As just one upshot of this mind-boggling action, Councilmember Constantine - taking on faith the word of high-level County staffer - insured that Osgood was denied money from the 34th LD Democrats, and was made to look like a crackpot to boot.  Who knows what other consequences have resulted or will follow?

Let's be clear: It's against the law for County Officials to use their position to electioneer or campaign on behalf of political candidates; and it's unconscionable for one to use her position to participate in what can only be described as a smear campaign against a candidate running for the office which directly supervises the work that she does.

At next month's 34th LD meeting I intend to reintroduce my motion to support Osgood and to share what I have learned about this incident with my fellow Democrats.  I sincerely hope Councilmember Constantine and other members of the County Council will also take a hard look at the actions of their Director of Elections.  It appears someone has been saying some crazy things - and I don't mean Jason Osgood.

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For doing this detective work. I was surprised and dismayed to hear the allegations. We need to straighten this out pubicly. Who knows how many voters and influential people this has trickled down to.

Remind me not to run for office.

by dinazina on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 06:06:22 PM PST

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I characterized Constantine's remarks as "trashing" because of their tone.  They were filled with obvious contempt for Osgood, which is part of what made them so shocking.  As you point out, he had reason to be upset.  But even if he trashed Osgood for good reason, he still trashed him, IMHO.

by jeffuppy on Fri Aug 15, 2008 at 06:29:43 PM PST

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Look, it should be no secret that Sims (or else his staff while he was on vacation or something) wanted barcodes on ballots.

Regarding the rest of it I have to wonder: are these people Democrats and have they ever heard of a device, which we apparently used to communicate with the Russians during the Cold War, called the "telephone"?

by m3047 on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 04:27:41 AM PST

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In your editorial comment, there is an slight error. This wasn't about whether or not to endorse Osgood as the 34th Dems had already endorsed him at our July meeting. See page page 6 of the newsletter for the minutes of the July meeting.  The vote at the meeting this week was whether or not to contribute money to Osgood's campaign.

by Cherisse on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 08:13:59 AM PST

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Great investigative piece! I have "borrowed liberally" from you to bring your piece to the Seattle Examiner

All are welcome to post comments there as well.

Chad (The Left) Shue

by The Left Shue on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 12:51:52 PM PST

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The King County Council made the right choice in deciding to not adopt this system of putting unique barcodes on individual ballots.  I was an observer of this issue from relatively early on -- from well before the time when King County made this decision.  As soon as the King County Council decided to not use these unique barcodes on individual ballots, Jason Osgood posted a piece on this blog congratulating them for this decision:


Here's a video showing a presentation by two people who are suing San Juan County for the use of unique barcodes on ballots: Sam Reed and Individual Barcodes on Voter Ballots: Video.  You can see in the audience two high-level King County Elections officials.  This  presentation was organized by Jason Osgood, you can see him introducing the officials.  Shortly after the presentation, King County Council voted against the use of unique barcodes on ballots.

by noemie maxwell on Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 05:19:33 PM PST

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to step up and expose these folks?  Who is willing to send an email to Ron Simms asking him to talk to Dow Constantine?  This should have already been done.  The research is thorough and fairly conclusive.

I'm up to helping Jason in any way I can.  I actually have several emails written (to Sherrill Huff, to Ron Sims, to Dwight and Jaxon cc'd to the editor@seattletimes, the editor at the PI and the investigative team at the PI.  I'd like some help in making sure I have all i's dotted and t's crossed before I send these out.  if you're willing, I can be reached at barbara@whitts-end.com.

Talking amongst ourselves with no action is what is keeping the Repubs a step ahead of us, they obviously are not afraid of speaking out with lies.

I'm also waiting to hear from Jason that he's ok with me raising some hell.

by barbaraw on Sun Aug 17, 2008 at 06:09:30 PM PST

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And I sent a similar email to several KC Councilmembers

Dear Editor:

San Juan County elections is currently being sued over its use of unique barcode identifiers on  individual voter ballots.  About 20 other Washington counties use this practice as well.  San Juan County and Washington's Secretary of State assert that this is legal because the unique identifiers are encrypted.  Many citizens believe that the law prohibiting unique identifying marks on ballots applies even when those marks are encrypted.  In 2007, the King County Council did the right thing and decided to not use these unique identifiers on ballots.

At that time, Jason Osgood, a citizen expert on election systems, congratulated the King County Council on its decision in a Washblog article entitled King County Protects Our Secret Ballot,

Osgood is now running for Secretary of State.  Last week, Sherril Huff, Director of King County Elections, sent the members of the King County Council an email stating that Osgood has been telling citizens that  King County places unique identifying barcodes on individual ballots.  This is completely false.

On questioning, Ms. Huff has admitted that she used King County equipment to email this false allegation without fact-checking the information.  In other words, she emailed false and defamatory information about a Democratic candidate that was received from a Republican source --  using government equipment and time immediately before the primary election, too late for the candidate to do much to correct the record.  I urge you to investigate and report.

by noemie maxwell on Mon Aug 18, 2008 at 04:19:21 PM PST

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  • Perfect!! by dinazina, 08/18/2008 08:52:35 PM PST (none / 0)
to the auditor's office in Pacific County.  I'm not an insider to what went on, was said or not said per this story, but I don't need the story to tell me what I already know about Jason Osgood as a person.  He is sterling!  

Having learned more than I ever wanted to know about political campaigning, the guts of this story sounds like more of the unclean politiking I've been exposed to these past eight years.

Jason has run a clean campaign, because he is a stand up kind of guy and will make an outstanding Secretary of State.  

On the Surge in Iraq "--we have set the bar so low it's buried in the sand at this point." - Barack Obama

by Lietta Ruger on Tue Aug 19, 2008 at 09:04:09 AM PST

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