CLYDE HILL — Clipboard in hand, Jenifer Short and Emily Tadlock strolled through an upscale suburban neighborhood on a recent afternoon, checking homes against a list of voter registrations.
Knocking on the front door of a house with an Alfa Romeo in the driveway, they chatted with a woman, a tenant who checked that she was registered to vote at the address, but said that another registrant was the owner, who did not live there.
After the brief conversation, Short and Tadlock moved on, jotting down the information on an “incident report” for the group they volunteered for, the Washington Voter Research Project.
“We’re detectives, okay? Tadlock said, jokingly describing the work of verifying thousands of voter registrations flagged by the group as potentially suspicious.
Across Washington, hundreds of volunteers like Tadlock and Short knocked on doors, interviewed residents and searched for evidence of voter fraud — or at least outdated voter rolls.
It’s an effort led by Glen Morgan, a Thurston County conservative activist known for filing frequent campaign finance complaints against Democratic politicians, labor unions and other allied groups.
As Morgan seeks to ward off the solicitation of outlandish and bogus conspiracies regarding the 2020 presidential election, he acknowledged his group attracted 350 volunteers across the state in part because of mistrust in the electoral system. fueled by former President Donald Trump.
What’s happening here is loosely linked to a nationwide campaign by Trump supporters going door to door to find proof that the 2020 election was fraudulent. Activity in some states has sparked violent backlash and accusations of voter intimidation. Civil rights groups in Colorado filed a federal lawsuit in March, alleging that Trump supporters there targeted neighborhoods with high numbers of people of color.
In Washington, the Morgan-led doorbell campaign generated complaints from people discouraged by the investigations, leading several county auditors and Secretary of State Steve Hobbs to issue public statements warning that the group is not allowed. by any electoral office.
In interviews, some county auditors said they received reports of canvassers trying to impersonate government officials.
“People called very concerned because they were posing as county employees,” Thurston County Auditor Mary Hall said. “They had like the Thurston County logo on their clipboard.”
Hall said his office would “never go door to door asking voters if they voted or how long they’ve been living there, anything like that.”
According to reports she received, Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said some residents “felt two canvassers were trying to present themselves as working for or with” her office or the office. of the Secretary of State. “We don’t do that kind of doorbell or door-to-door,” she said. “We don’t sponsor it, we don’t endorse it, no one does it under our authority.”
Bremerton resident Michael Simonds recalls meeting one of the canvassers while at a friend’s house earlier this year. Simonds said the woman started out reasonable, but moved on to a rant about “illegal immigrants” and falsifying ballot signatures. “It kind of escalated,” he said. He said the woman hinted that she was working with the county auditor’s office. “It looked like a disinformation campaign,” he said.
State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski criticized the doorbell as invasive and “largely a voter intimidation effort that is being taken up by the GOP.”
Morgan dismisses the criticism, saying her organization is non-partisan and does not seek to mislead or intimidate anyone. He said volunteers are trained to identify themselves correctly as volunteers and not as public servants. He said they also prohibit taking photos or posting information on social media about the houses they visit, and added that he has banned a few people who have broken these rules.
Morgan called some of the comments from county listeners, particularly Dalton, about his group “shockingly ignorant and defamatory” and said some complaints appear to be triggered when volunteers visit the homes of “diehard leftists”.
The group works from voter registration lists — which are public — cross-checked with data from the Postal Service, Social Security Administration and other sources, to find voters who have likely moved or died. .
Morgan, a former employee of the Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based conservative think tank focused on fighting public sector unions, said his efforts were entirely voluntary and not backed by any big budget. Besides Morgan, the only other officer listed for the group in state records is Sharon Hanek, a Bonney Lake accountant who unsuccessfully ran for a Pierce County council seat in 2018.
In a recent interview at a Bellevue cafe, volunteers from Morgan’s group played down interest in large-scale voter fraud conspiracy theories that have been floated by Trump and his allies in recent years. They said they had just seen flaws in the system and that they wanted the voters lists to be clean.
“I don’t believe in grand conspiracies, but I think doing this work could provide insights that we need to dig deeper,” said Kim Taylor of Seattle.
Tadlock said she became concerned when she personally received two ballots after getting married and moving to Mercer Island. She called King County Elections, which updated her registration to resolve the issue. “I think mail-in ballots are inherently shady,” she said.
Short, an Edmonds resident, said she became suspicious of mail-in voting in 2020 after hearing about a volunteer accepting ballots near an Everett drop box. She said she called the county and was told there were no volunteers to do this. “It made me think that there are many ways in which voter fraud happens,” she said.
Short filed in May to run for state representative as a Republican, challenging Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, in the 21st Legislative district. She spent the past week in Michigan with Washington initiative promoter Tim Eyman, who took his operation on the road after receiving massive fines for breaking campaign laws here. Eyman is now working to label a Michigan “ballot integrity” initiative that would require photo ID for in-person voting and restrict mail-in voting.
On his Facebook page, Short promoted ‘2000 Mules’, the film by conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza, who claims cellphone tracking data shows Democrat-aligned voting ‘mules’ in several swing states cost Trump the 2020 presidential election. The film was widely discredited by experts for distorting his cellphone data and failing to prove his fraud claims.
Washington state has nearly 4.8 million registered voters, a population that is constantly changing as people die or move to new addresses without updating their registrations. Election officials are constantly sifting through data in an effort to keep voter rolls up to date, though Morgan says their efforts fall short.
Documented cases of voter fraud are extremely rare, both nationally and in Washington. In the 2016 and 2018 general elections, the Secretary of State’s office identified 216 cases of potential fraud, or approximately 0.003% of the 6.5 million votes cast in those elections.
Two county auditors said the bulk of questionable voter names brought to their attention by Morgan so far appear to be valid military and foreign voters, who are authorized by federal law to vote at their last registered address or to the address of a family member.
Morgan’s group gave Thurston County a list of 2,000 names, according to Hall. The bureau analyzed the names and found no fraudulent voters. “Most of what they were calling suspicious were military and foreign voters,” she said.
Similarly, in Clark County, “the majority of names” on the lists provided by Morgan’s group are military and foreign voters, according to auditor Greg Kimsey.
Morgan’s list identified a Clark County voter who died in the 1980s, Kimsey said, and the auditor’s office canceled that listing. “No ballots have been cast in the name of this voter since his death,” he added.
In King County, an initial list provided by Morgan’s group reporting hundreds of voter registration anomalies found no illegal voters, King County Chief Electoral Officer Julie Wise said. in an email to the group’s county coordinator on May 6.
The county reviewed the list and discovered that nearly half of the names were “inactive” voters, meaning they do not receive ballots and will not do so in the future unless they are not updating their information, Wise said in the email. In other cases, voters appeared to vote legally from addresses where they previously lived.
Kendall Hodson, King County Elections Chief of Staff, said the office has not received any complaints about the canvassers and welcomes any help in keeping voter registrations up to date. “We work with many different partners to keep our rollers clean. We appreciate it,” she said.
Morgan said his group would continue to do what he described as inglorious background work until they were satisfied the voter rolls were clean.
“We don’t stop. We’re not leaving,” Morgan said. “We are not caught in an electoral cycle, nor in any party.”