Bar Code Blunder
Candidate's Supporters Claim Dirty Tricks
Was a letter from King County Elections director Sherril Huff denouncing alleged statements by secretary of state candidate Jason Osgood part of a conspiracy by his opponent, incumbent secretary of state Sam Reed, to sabotage his election chances? That depends on whom you ask.
On Wednesday, August 13, Huff sent a memorandum to the King County Council informing them that Osgood had falsely claimed, "at local public meetings as well as editorial boards," that King County ballots contained bar codes that allow elections staff to trace how individual citizens vote. "King County has never endorsed any technology that can directly link a ballot back to the voter," Huff wrote. In 2007, the county council passed legislation banning the use of identifying bar codes.
Huff's memo might have languished in the obscurity of county government, if not for one agitated County Council member. At a meeting of West Seattle's 34th District Democrats last Wednesday, council member Dow Constantine, citing Huff's letter, objected to a proposal to contribute $1,000 of the district's budget to Osgood's campaign. District vice chair Tim Nuse recalls that, "with a majority of the members not really knowing" Osgood, the district "voted against giving him money."
In his own defense, Constantine says, "I'd just received a memorandum stating very clearly that [Osgood] is giving out false information that there are personal identification marks on King County ballots."
Osgood and his supporters, in response, say he never made any such claim. "Of course King County does not use the voter identifying bar codes," Osgood says. In a post on the blog Washblog, Jeff Upthegrove, the brother of state representative Dave Upthegrove (D-33) and the person who made the motion to give Osgood $1,000, called Huff's claims "entirely false."
So who's telling the truth? Huff and state elections director Nick Handy, the original source of the information, say they are. Handy says constituents had been calling his office, "very upset that there were bar codes on their ballots [that] could be traced back to determine how they voted." Because some of those calls came from King County, Handy says, he contacted Huff, who sent out the memo in response. Huff says she didn't bother to contact Osgood directly "because I didn't state any names directly" in the memo.
According to Osgood's supporters—including, now, Constantine, who calls the whole thing a "misunderstanding"—Huff and Handy are trying to harm Osgood's reputation. "Some of the folks at King County Elections and the secretary of state's office are a little hostile toward Osgood," Upthegrove says. According to Nuse, Osgood's supporters see the letter as "essentially a smear campaign that came from Sam Reed's office and eventually filtered down" to King County Elections.
Osgood's own public statements on bar codes are mixed. On the one hand, in a radio interview readily available on YouTube, Osgood emphatically denounced Reed for "put[ting] a bar code on our ballots that allows government officials to determine how we voted each and every time." On the other, Osgood wrote a letter to Constantine last year thanking him, as the county council member who sponsored the bar code–banning legislation, for "proactively protecting our secret ballots."
Because Osgood moved forward in Tuesday's top-two primary, the 34th District Dems will have ample opportunity to right what may or may not have been a wrong. "I'm sure that the unanimous endorsement of Mr. Osgood, in which I participated, will ultimately lead to financial support as well," Constantine says.
So far, Osgood has raised $16,500 to Reed's $345,000.