MASON COUNTY, Wash. — In late 2021, a group of volunteers turned onto Coulter Creek Road on a mission to uncover fraud and incompetence in Mason County elections.
They hit paydirt - literally an empty lot of dirt and trees with no house. Yet, four voters were registered at this Belfair property.
The vacant lot is exhibit No. 1 in the Mason County Voter Research Project’s “Voter Anomaly” report, submitted to Mason County officials this summer along with a demand for the county to investigate any “mistake or fraudulent act” in the 239 voter registration anomalies identified in their report.
“This is not acceptable. One illegal vote disenfranchises every legal voter,” the report states.
Two additional voters were registered at nearby vacant lot on Coulter Creek Road, a potential violation because voters are required to register at the address where they actually live, according to the report.
But there was a problem. The volunteers made a wrong turn. The voters in the county’s registration records do live on Coulter Creek, however, they live on the other side of the road. Their address is correctly listed in the Research Project's records, but volunteers apparently missed that the homes are on Coulter Creek Road South.
The mishap was one of several uncovered by the KING 5 Investigators as they retraced some of the steps of the Voter Research Project’s door-to-door canvassing efforts, which purportedly visited 544 addresses of selected Mason County voters.
“They need to do more research. It really didn’t seem that difficult to find us,” said Melanie, one of four voters who lives at the house on Coulter Creek Road South that Research Project volunteers misidentified as a vacant lot.
“I really think it just seems to be an error in how it was documented,” said Brian, at the house down the street, who confirmed that two registered voters live at the address.
The Research Project's canvassing efforts in several Washington counties to uncover elections fraud shows how national claims of a “stolen election” in the 2020 presidential race have trickled down to local communities.
KING 5 investigated some of Mason County Research Project's more striking claims: A dead man who voted, multiple people registered at houses where they do not live, voters improperly registered to post office boxes where they receive their ballots, and mysterious “ghost voters” who cast ballots on behalf of people who said they did not vote.
The 'deceased voter'
The report identifies a “deceased voter” who lived at a house on East Lakewood in Shelton until he “died in the summer of 2019 prior to the November 2020 General Election in which he voted.” Two neighbors contacted by KING 5 disputed that timeline and said the man moved at a later date to live with a family member in Arizona. In addition, Mason County Elections received a notice from the post office that the man moved to Arizona in 2021, well after the 2020 elections.
County elections workers routinely check federal death records to de-register deceased voters, but sometimes the death is not recorded in the federal database for several months. The neighbors said the man died after he moved to Arizona.
With all the evidence in hand, it does not appear that a ballot was cast in the name of a dead man.
The 'ghost voter'
In another case, Mary gave a chuckle when she spoke to a KING 5 crew on her doorstep who told her she had been identified as a “ghost voter” in the Research Project's report. The Shelton woman could not recall canvassers coming to her door. Records show Mary cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential election, but Research Project volunteers said Mary told them she had not voted. Mary did not recall saying that and was confused by some of KING 5’s questions.
County election records show Mary did vote in the election. The county elections office said her ballot signature matched her signature on file and there is no evidence of fraud.
Sometimes the truth about voter “anomalies” could be found in the Research Project's own report.
Fewer anomalies than reported
The report stated a man who used to live at a home on East Fairchild in Shelton was still registered at that address even though “…he joined the Coast Guard two years ago and no longer lives at this address.” The Research Project is apparently unaware that The Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act allows service members and their families to remain registered at their last Washington address, and have their ballots mailed overseas. Service member’s information is kept confidential in voting records, but county records reviewed by KING 5 indicate the man’s voter registration is legal and active.
KING 5 visited more than a dozen address of supposed “voter anomalies” and mailed and messaged additional voters. Most of the voter registrations KING 5 checked were not anomalies and could be explained or verified as legitimate voters.
“I personally went through every (voter) name on that list,” said Mason County Auditor Paddy McGuire, who runs the county elections office.
He said he investigated Research Project's claims that they found 239 voter anomalies among the 411 residents they spoke with.
McGuire said more than 80% of the “anomalies” in the Research Project's report were either incorrect or involved information that was already known to elections workers.
“They have identified 67 voters that I would describe as possible anomalies and not confirmed anomalies, but possible. We have 44,500 registered voters in Mason County. One is too many, but 67 is a pretty small number,” McGuire said.
The report was authored by Steve Duenkel, a first-time candidate for Mason County Auditor who garnered 49% of the vote during the August primary. He’ll face incumbent McGuire – with nearly two decades of elections experience -- in the November election.
Duenkel, a retired Boeing manager, has not responded to multiple requests from KING 5 for an interview. He is running on an “election integrity” platform and has embraced some of the conspiracy theories surrounding the “stolen” 2020 presidential election.
“There’s a lot of questions out there about our voting machines, a lot of uncertainly,” Duenkel told iFibreOne KMAS in May, long after conspiracies about Dominion Voting Systems and other machines had been debunked. Duenkel suggested returning to in-person voting and hand-counting ballots as a fix.
Some accuracies found in report
Not all the Research Project's report is inaccurate.
Volunteers reported that 12 voters are registered to post offices boxes at the Bear Creek Store in Belfair. Another eight voters are registered to PO boxes at the nearby post office.
McGuire said voters are required to provide the address where they reside and cannot substitute a PO box instead. So, those 20 voters are in violation of registration requirements.
McGuire said his office is aware of these instances, and over the last three years he has reduced PO box registrations using a new, more secure statewide voter registration system called VoteWA, which went live in 2019.
“There were more than 100 (PO box registrations) when we started this process,” McGuire said.
Still, he said he can’t cancel the remaining PO box voter registrations without additional evidence. He said the law presumes that registered voters are valid unless someone files a voter registration challenge along with a signed affidavit. No one with the Research Project has submitted such a challenge.
McGuire was asked if election deniers will use this as an example of government incompetence at rooting out voter registration fraud.
“I think it’s important to recognize that small issues don’t mean fraud,” said McGuire.
That’s what KING 5 found in the Mason County Voter Research Project's report -- mostly small issues, no conspiracies, and an elections system that is striving to deliver full and fair elections.
McGuire said he passed his findings along to the Voter Research Project, but its members didn’t seem interested in what he had to say.
“It’s troubling to see people who walk into the process uninterested in learning the truth (and they) only seem interested in proving fantasies about widespread voter fraud,” McGuire said.
This report is the first in a series called “The Fraud Crusade, which will investigate allegations of voter fraud and incompetence in western Washington.
WATCH: KING 5 Investigator reports