Sep 16, 2022 - News

Leader of ballot box surveillance effort sues election officials

Ballot dropbox under surveillance
A digital template for the signs that Amber Krabach posted near King County dropboxes. From court documents

A Republican activist who posted printed signs this summer warning that King County ballot boxes were under surveillance is suing the public officials who said those signs were unacceptable.

Driving the news: Amber Krabach filed a lawsuit this month alleging that King County Elections Director Julie Wise trampled Krabach’s free speech rights by calling Krabach’s signs a form of voter intimidation and ordering them removed.

  • The lawsuit also targets Gov. Jay Inslee and Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, who similarly criticized the signs.

Why it matters: Krabach, who has raised unsubstantiated concerns about voter fraud, says she wants to continue posting similar signs ahead of the November general election. Election officials say that would interfere with the democratic process.

Catch up quick: Krabach's signs, which appeared near multiple ballot drop boxes in King County in the lead-up to the Aug. 2 primary, said: "This Ballot Dropbox is Under Surveillance – Accepting compensation for harvesting or depositing ballots may be a violation of federal law."

  • The signs also included a scannable code directing people to a section of the King County Republican Party website where they could submit "election incident" reports, according to a July report by The Seattle Times. That webpage has since been changed.
  • When she posted the signs in July, Krabach was a member of an ad hoc committee of the King County Republican Party.
  • That committee has since been dissolved, per the lawsuit.
  • The chair of the King County Republican Party, Mathew Patrick Thomas, said the party did not authorize Krabach's efforts and at one point sent a cease-and-desist letter asking her to stop.

The big picture: Krabach, who has unsuccessfully run for the Legislature three times, is challenging Washington's law that says no one can interfere with or try to influence someone's vote within 25 feet of a ballot drop box.

  • Krabach's lawsuit says she doesn't think she broke that law. But she also claims the statute is vague and "cannot be constitutionally applied."
  • A police investigation into the posting of the signs resulted in no criminal charges, but authorities forwarded their findings to the FBI for consideration.

What they're saying: Krabach declined to comment Thursday. Her attorney did not respond to an email from Axios.

The other side: Wise, the King County Elections Director, said in a statement to Axios that "free speech is foundational to our democracy."

  • "However, to suggest that one has a right to intimidate voters and discourage them from using secure and convenient means to return their ballot is not just absurd, it's dangerous," Wise said.
  • "As we head into the midterm election it's never been more important to speak truth and stand up to lies," she added. "We will continue to fight this and every other attempt to circumvent democracy with everything we have."

What's next: Krabach seeks a judge's order affirming her right to put up her signs near ballot boxes. She also wants an award of monetary damages.

  • The public officials named in Krabach's suit have yet to formally respond to her claims in court.
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