What Happened in Hazzard Snohomish County?

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Looks like Boss Esser is going to have some serious ‘splainin’ to do.

TPMmuckraker’s Paul Kiel spent the day trying to figure out what was going on in Washington State. It wasn’t easy. Just understanding the caucus process itself has been a challenge.

Paul finally got in touch with a spokesman for the state GOP, who gave us the official GOP line, which goes something like this:

(1) When Washington Republicans showed up at their precinct caucuses on Saturday, they indicated their presidential preference on a sign-in sheet at the door.

(2) Each precinct caucus elected delegates from among those in attendance.

(3) Then each precinct identified the presidential preferences of its elected delegates based on what they indicated on their sign-in sheets.

(4) At that point, the precinct reported its delegate preferences to the county GOP which in turn reported them to the state GOP.

So that’s the official line from the Washington Republican Party as to how things were supposed to work. But Seattle’s KING5-TV is reporting tonight that things didn’t work that way, or just plain didn’t work at all, in at least in one county:

KING 5 News has uncovered inconsistencies in how the votes from Saturday’s Republican Caucus are being reported, raising questions about the accuracy of the statewide count. …

When voters participating in the caucuses walked through the door, they signed in. In Snohomish County, that sign-in sheet is what Republicans used to report results.

“And then the very last column asked them for their preference if they were to vote today, and those were the numbers we counted,” said Geri Modrell, Snohomish County Republican chair.

In reality, Republicans acknowledge the sign-in sheet is not an accurate way to figure out who won. After signing in, caucus-goers had plenty of time to debate and change their minds. What really matters is what delegates they picked in the end to go to the county convention.

For example, the winner on the sign-in sheets in Pierce County was Huckabee, with 609 supporters showing up. But, by the time Pierce County elected delegates, it flipped, and John McCain walked away with 192 delegates, beating Huckabee.

In Snohomish County, caucus leaders say they also noticed the sign-up sheets did not match the final delegates at all.

Saturday night, Washington state Republican Party chair Luke Esser declared McCain the winner. But KING 5 has learned that there’s no way the party could have known the delegate preferences from Snohomish County, because that county never reported delegate results, instead relying solely on those sign-up sheets.

“And we had already explained to them that we would not have that information for a couple of days,” said Modrell. “I haven’t talked to them. I have no idea what they did with our numbers. They obviously would not be able to use those numbers as a comparison with the rest of the counties.”

If you’re confused, so am I. At a minimum, there seems to be serious questions about what exactly was being tallied Saturday night. Was it the presidential preferences of individual caucusgoers, which Snohomish County apparently counted? Or was it the presidential preferences of the delegates elected by caucus-goers, which the party says should have been counted?

Setting aside the issue of why Esser, the state GOP chair, called the contest for John McCain even before all the caucuses had reported, there seems to be an issue of whether everyone was even counting the same thing.

Can we agree that any election is bound to have some problems if the people running the election haven’t agreed on what is being counted?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.
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