by Carolyn Bick
A handful of Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers appear to have broken the law by registering to vote with their precinct addresses. Among them is Officer Michael Solan, President of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG).
After receiving a tip from an anonymous source, the Emerald looked up the five SPD precinct addresses on Sound Politics’ voter database, an online database of the Washington State Voter Registration Database, to see if anyone was registered to vote using these addresses. Because the database is only up-to-date as of April 2020, Emerald cross-checked the voters registered at these addresses on a phone call with King County Elections Communications Officer Halei Watkins.
Watkins said that the fact these officers appear to have violated the law is concerning.
“When you register online or via paper form, whichever way you register, you are declaring that that is where you vote and where you reside. That is your residential address,” Watkins said. “It’s not uncommon for somebody to use their work address as their mailing address, but they should not be using it as their residential address.”
She said that King County Elections does not ask for proof of residence or follow up with a person to determine that the address they provide for voter registration is their residential address but that this falls in line with Washington State’s practice of a good-faith declaration.
“You are signing a declaration that says you live at this address in Washington when you register to vote (it’s also on the online voter registration portal as one of the last steps for those who register that way),” Watkins said in a follow-up email. “They are breaking that declaration if they knowingly register and vote at an address where they do not live, which opens their registration up to a challenge.”
There are six different SPD officers who are registered to vote at four different precincts around the city. Officers Michael Solan, head of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, and Denise Bouldin — also known as “Detective Cookie” — are registered at the South Precinct. Officer Alan Bernstein is registered at the North Precinct. Officer Jon Girtch is registered at the West Precinct. Officers John Bundy and Susan Wong are registered at the East Precinct.
Because King County Elections does not check to make sure these officers live within King County, it could be possible they live outside the county, Watkins said.
Some of these officers have been registered at the precincts longer than others. For instance, while Bouldin has only been registered at the South Precinct since earlier this year, Solan has been registered at the South Precinct since at least 2015. Watkins said he could very well have been registered there since even before 2015, but because the King County Elections database was updated, she doesn’t have access to data before 2015.
At least two other officers appear to also have been registered at these same precincts, according to the Sound Politics database. These two officers were Kurt Knox at the East Precinct and Terry Dunn at the North Precinct. Watkins could not find Knox in the database, which could have meant that he moved or changed voting registration addresses, but she did find Dunn. On both the King County Elections database and the Sound Politics database, Dunn’s voting registration is shown as “inactive,” which Watkins said means that his ballot was returned as undeliverable for at least two federal voting cycles, or someone sent it back.
In her follow-up email, Watkins iterated that “the residential address is meant to be where you live or where you lay your head down at night,” and that while King County does take “non-traditional addresses for those experiencing homelessness (for example, we’ll take a cross-street if that’s where you consider yourself to live), but that doesn’t seem to apply with these cases.”
She also said in her follow-up email that the voter registration lead colleague with whom she consulted about this said that “sometimes police officers or other public employees even will try to do this because they don’t want their information to be public (and it is, information like name/[date of birth]/address is public record and disclosable under the law).”
“Our state does have an Address Confidentiality Program but the bar for that is very high and it’s largely used for victims of stalking, domestic violence, or credible violent threats,” Watkins said. “Most police officers, judges, prosecutors, or other public employees don’t meet the bar to qualify for that program just because of their job alone but are hesitant about having their information be public record.”
Watkins also said in her earlier phone call with the Emerald that “this is not super-uncommon” and that someone would have to challenge these officers’ claim of residence at these addresses. Ultimately, it’s highly unlikely they will be prosecuted, she said. Though King County Elections does focus on fraud, “really the fraud that we focus on is if people vote in two different places.”
“It’s very, very unlikely this would be prosecuted. In all likelihood, we would not even refer it to a prosecutor, because for them to do that prosecution is pretty high,” Watkins said. “[These officers] would need to re-register with their correct address. I am a little bit surprised, as public employees.”
SPD’s Communications Officer Lauren Truscott told the Emerald in an email sent early on Tuesday morning that the “matter has been sent to the Office of Police Accountability for review.”
Watkins also told the Emerald on Tuesday morning that she is escalating the issue to her superiors.
Featured image from the Emerald archives.