860 ballots found in vandalized King Co. drop box

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by ALLEN SCHAUFFLER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on November 6, 2009 at 2:10 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 6 at 6:53 PM

SEATTLE – Ballots found in a vandalized drop box could are creating new questions for the King County Elections Department, which has been dogged by controversy in recent years.

The ballots, about 860 of them, were found sometime Wednesday morning in a drop box at elections headquarters in Tukwila.

On Tuesday night at 8 p.m., elections workers placed a locking mechanism on the drop box, with the intent on collecting the ballots the next morning. But sometime between 12:30  and 5:30 a.m., someone ripped the lock off with considerable force.

For now, the ballots are being processed to the point of signature verification, then set aside. Elections officials say there is no way to tell how many of them were placed in the box after the deadline.

This may ultimately have an impact in the race for Seattle Mayor. As of Friday afternoon, Mike McGinn had a 1,209 vote lead over Joe Mallahan. If that lead holds, these ballots won't make a difference. It's also not clear how many of the ballots are from Seattle.

In a statement, the McGinn campaign said, "We are concerned about the ballots, but the drop box was not in the city of Seattle and we don't see any reason to comment on it."

The Mallahan camp says it's a shame anybody would take the voting process so lightly and possibly jeopardize the process. They say they have confidence the elections department will handle these ballots in an appropriate manner.

That will be up to a three-member canvassing board set to meet next Tuesday.

It's an election headache at a department familiar with pain. The 2004 gubernatorial election was a mess, to the point that it required two recounts. It was all muddied by boxes of ballots found in backrooms, legal challenges of specific ballot batches and finally a showdown in a Wenatchee courtroom that essentially decided the election in Christine Gregoire's favor.

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