OLYMPIA, Wash. - This is one of the busiest weeks of the year for the
Washington Secretary of State's election division. Tens of thousands of
petitions for ballot measures are scanned to make back-up copies, then a
staff of 25 verifies the signatures. That means checking each name
against a database of 3.5 million registered voters.
In most cases, if the number of signatures turned in far exceeds the
requirement, a random sample can be used. However, confirming accuracy
is still a challenge, according to Shane Hamlin, assistant state
"The hard part is actually finding them, because people don't always
write legibly. It's hard to read their names, sometimes; they don't
provide all of the information that makes it easy for us to find them.
So that process - doing a sample check of about 10,000 signatures -
takes three to four days."
Technology has helped speed up the verification, Hamlin says, but it
can't replace the initiative process, and it takes a lot of work to get
an idea all the way to the printed ballot.
"For a measure to get on the ballot, a lot of people either have made an
informed decision to sign the petition or have just signed it to get
past a signature-gatherer, so to speak, outside a store. But this is a
constitutional right. This is a process that is protected in the
Constitution. It's really kind of a grassroots, direct-democracy
Hamlin says plenty of people sign petitions even when they're not
legally eligible to do so. The average error rate is 18 percent. He
expects at least some ballot-measure backers to know if their
initiatives made the cut by the end of this week. If a full verification
is required instead of a random sample, the process takes several
The process is also detailed on the Secretary of State's website, www.sos.wa.gov